Friday, November 30, 2007
Excellent 4-0 Win Tonight
This was a "royale with cheese" game. If you ever saw Pulp Fiction or at least that memorable scene where John Travolta's character and Samuel L. Jackson's character were in the car discussing Europe. About how they have the same things as here, but they're different. The first period, like the Dallas game, was very poor for the Devils. Montreal out-shot the Devils heavily, putting 16 on Martin Brodeur and taking 13 of the first 14 shots in the game. Montreal did what they wanted on offense, but they couldn't crack Brodeur. They were able to do this thanks to the Devils committing 3 penalties within the first ten minutes of the game. But consider my movie metaphor: this was different. Montreal didn't score on Martin Brodeur, they just put a lot of shots on him no thanks to a very passive defense/penalty kill. At this point, I was concerned that the team really did miss Jay Pandolfo dearly. Continuing the theme of things that were different, the Devils turned it around at the end with a big break. Zach Parise took advantage of a loose puck, powered down the ice, and beat Carey Price. Nonetheless, Martin Brodeur had to bail out the team and Montreal was unfortunate to leave the period 1-0. Poor period for the Devils, but it was different - they were winning.
Like the Dallas game, the Devils proceeded to turn it around for the rest of the game. The big difference is that it was that the turn around was even more pronounced. They out-shot the Canadiens in both periods. This was helped mainly by the defense positioned itself to force the Montreal forwards to make difficult shots - and miss as Les Habs couldn't finish an attack to save their lives tonight. Even when they did put up a shot on Martin Brodeur, he had no trouble with it and a Devil picked up the rebound shortly thereafter. The defense did very well tonight. On offense, the Devils put on more pressure and they did well, making their goaltender Carey Price pay the proverbial price. While the forwards (and the team) did well overall, the offense became the Zach Parise Show with Special Guests Jamie Langenbrunner and Brian Gionta.
The special teams came through again not just in killing penalties but with three power play goals. The first two came from Zach Parise - the first PPG being a put-back of a rebound and the second was Parise finishing an attack. Saku Koivu definitely learned not to interfere with Brodeur and the Canadiens definitely learned not to raise their sticks to draw blood on a Devils' face. Twice. Yes, the Devils not only got a two-man advantage but a double-minor two-man advantage. Parise got his second power play goal, his third of the night making him the first Devil to get a hat trick in the Rock. The Devils took their time on the two-man advantage and got the job done twice. About a minute after Parise's goal, Brian Gionta put home a loose puck in the crease for goal number four. The penalty killers were perfect, the power play unit was very successful, and Parise got 3 goals and an assist. Parise had a wonderful night, Langenbrunner finished with 2 more assists (I'm so glad he's back), and Gionta picked up a goal and an assist as well. Believe it or not, the Devils could have won by even more. For example, had Aaron Asham capitalized on a Carey Price giveaway, we would not only be talking about Parise's big performance but also Price's big blunder. Unfortunately, Asham couldn't put it into the empty net. For all you Canadiens fans, I think Price needs to stop playing the puck outside of the crease until he gets better with a stick.
Overall, Montreal looked out of it after the Parise goal and the Devils iced the game twice in grand fashion. They couldn't do much afterwards and Martin Brodeur got his second shutout of the season. The shutout is Brodeur's 94th, which means only one man is ahead of him in career shutouts - the legendary Terry Sawchuk with 103. TSN was very enthusiastic about the milestone
, but this article was on the front page of TSN's NHL page with the headline "The Greatest Ever?" That's an issue for another time, but Martin Brodeur is a special player with special talents - tonight's game was further proof of that fact. He continues to own Montreal and remain hot despite how poorly the team did in the first period.
It's hard to complain about this one, I would only suggest that the Devils take fewer penalties and start off the game with more of a spark. In any case, the Devils won their sixth straight game and they earned an excellent win tonight.
Labels: 2008 Postgame
Thursday, November 29, 2007
No Jay, Perhaps a Problem
The New Jersey Devils showed a lot last night at the Rock against Dallas. In their 4-2 win over the Stars (link goes to NHL.com recap),
the Devils won their fifth straight game, carried further momentum in how they played, and did while coming from behind. The first period was absolutely terrible, as Martin Brodeur gave up two soft goals, the Devils looked lethargic all period, the Devils squandered all three power plays, and the team allowed the inexcusable - a shorthanded goal. From the second period on, the Devils improved approximately 110.389% percent and took it to Dallas from then on. The lines are now really taking form and they all contributed tonight. David Clarkson beat Marty Turco on a wraparound, as his line (Jay Pandolfo-John Madden-Clarkson) provided tenacious defense and some offense. Brian Gionta came out of nowhere to bang home a Patrik Elias pass, who got the puck from Zach Parise. Dainius Zubrus finished perfectly on a 2-on-1 with Jamie Langenbrunner. They're clicking and so they got the win tonight.
There was a downside to the win, Jay Pandolfo fell after shooting a shorthanded breakaway. He slid into the corner and banged his head in a painful-looking manner; naturally he got up and got off the ice as soon as he could. Pandolfo didn't play the rest of the game, and according to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, he isn't going to play tomorrow with a pelvic injury.
This is not good and not just because his streak of 307 games is broken. Pandolfo, despite his usual lack of offensive production, has been a consistent performer on a team that is only now discovering it. And he has definitely been a quality player both as a checker and even as a scorer with 8 goals and 5 assists this season. Moreover, according to James Mirtle's recent look at defensive forwards, Pandolfo ranks ninth in the league.
That speaks a lot to what Pandolfo on the ice means and I think the team is going to miss his presence on the checking line. Hopefully the Montreal forwards don't exploit the left side too much - though they may not be able to considering that Sergei Brylin could be put there. Sarge is a versatile player and good enough checker to capably fill in that big hole on the third line. He would be my first choice as a replacement. In any case, I hope that Pandolfo recovers from his injury quickly and properly.
Starting next season, the NHL schedule is going to get balanced again. The NHL Board of Governors has approved a change to the scheduling that will ensure that every team in the league will play each other at least once. Overall, with respect to the Devils, this means they'll definitely play against Brian Rafalski next season and there will be only six games against Our Hated Rivals. I have no issue with this schedule, to be honest. More games against the Western Conference teams will provide more opportunities for the Devils to see how well their approach to games actually works. Plus, I think it will provide more interesting match-ups in the NHL, which is always good. Not to mention as extra fodder to any Roberto Luongo-Martin Brodeur debates for Internet forums everywhere.
Remember when the Devils totally dominated the Flyers 4-1 earlier this month?
The game was so far out of contention that Glenn "Chico" Resch started talking about food during a Devils power play? Well, if you don't, then you missed a commentating highlight of the season. Chico really loves the Cuban sandwich at the Rock and somebody captured the whole bit on YouTube. Thanks to Kevin Schultz at the NHL Fanhouse for pointing it out.
Lastly, high school hockey season is about to begin and such is the subject of a feature at the New Jersey Devils' website. If you have been to the Rock this season, you have probably noticed a ton of high school hockey jerseys. Through this feature you can learn more about why they are there and which jersey represents which jersey.
What I find interesting is that Edison High School has a hockey team. Hopefully they are better than the seemingly perennially-bad football team.
The Devils play Montreal tomorrow. Whether or not Brent Sutter will go with seven defensemen remains to be seen - and if he does I hope it will mean the return of Andy Greene to the roster - we can be assured of two things. One, Martin Brodeur will start. Two, Martin Brodeur will excel.
Labels: 2008 Season, Devils Issues, Hockey - General, Hockey Issues, Prudential Center
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The first set of leading vote getters in the NHL All Star Game has been announced at NHL.com.
A quick look at the tentative starting line up would lead an outsider to believe that the Montreal Canadiens (12-8-3, 27 pts.) are the dominant team in the Eastern Conference. That's hardly true. Needless to say, the fans of Les Habs are stuffing the ballot box. Cristobal Huet is leading the goaltending votes for goodness' sake! We all know he isn't the best goaltender in the conference right now. Fortunately, anyone can vote constantly as long as it isn't for Rory Fitzpatrick. My fellow Devils fans, I shouldn't have to tell you that there is only one Devil who is deserving of starting the NHL All Star Game, and definitely over Cristobal Huet. So go to the site and vote for this guy already!
It could be two Devils deserving of a trip to Atlanta in late January if Zach Parise can step it up. Yes, I know Parise leads the team in points with 8 goals and 14 assists in 23 games. But Parise hasn't been as good in Newark as he has been on the road. Sure, the Devils played more than twice as many games on the road than at home this season. However, Parise only has 2 goals and 1 assist at the Prudential Center. That's hardly impressive, especially considering that Jay Pandolfo is the team's leader in goals at home. The team gets to play 7 of their next 10 games at home. Now is the time for the Devils to truly make home ice their own and get wins. This means that guys like Parise need to step it up.
Speaking of stepping it up, 2 Man Advantage has brought the content. Sure, they won't be live-capping as many games this week
; but Interchangeable Parts
usually has live-caps of games anyhow. Joe Betchel asserts that the world, in fact, is not ending and that Devils have turned it around.
Joe isn't alone in thinking this, Jeremy Kenter of Devils Daily believes the Devils are unconscious (as in they are playing lights-out hockey) right now.
I want to agree, but I want this team to play consistently well at home first before talking about how they're back. I got burned saying that too many times already this season after a decisive win, followed by a seemingly requisite big loss. 2MA has a must-read exclusive, however. Patricia Grueter got a chance to talk with John Zdunkiewicz, the emergency back-up goaltender for the Trenton Devils.
It's not often that a player will talk with a blog, so it's good to see Zdunkiewicz take that chance.
Speaking of blogs that bring the interesting content, James Mirtle
keeps having all sorts of things. Stats? He notes Gabe Desjardins' Behind the Net statistical resource
keeping logs of a player's linemates.
He also has a number of interesting posts on enforcers (a.k.a. goons and I don't mean Something Awful forum members) and fighting. First and foremost, is a fantastic study as to what happens when the enforcers are on the ice.
Mirtle concludes that basically, not much scoring happens for or against the team and shots on net goes way down when they're on the ice. What he found makes sense to me. In my opinion, enforcers aren't out there to create offense, to shore up the defense, or even to play proper hockey, but to bring the pain and fight people. Sometimes that may be necessary, but I have to agree - there are usually better ways to use a fourth line, especially when the best an enforcer is "not a liability" with respect to the game. Second, in a related matter, I get the impression in this post that Mirtle thinks that the NHLPA going after the instigator rule is a fool's errand.
The NHLPA should be tackling more vital subjects such as safety, player marketing (or the lack thereof), and revenue sharing. There's plenty of other great content at Mirtle's blog; just keep on scrolling.
Lastly, Jared Ramsden of Hockey's Future has a great round up of the Devils' prospects in Canadian junior leagues.
Overall, it's a mixed bad. I'm especially pleased to read how well Matt Halischuk, Kirill Tulupov, and Ryan Molle have been doing. I hope Nick Palmieri gets back on the scoring track after fighting illness, Matt Corrente develops a cool head along with the rest of his defensive fame, and Tony Romano continues to turn it around in London.
Labels: 2008 Season, Devils Issues, Devils Prospects, Hockey - General, Hockey Issues
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Devils 3 - Tampa Bay 2; 66% Good
First, let's talk about the good. The Devils played very well in the first two periods of the game. In the first period, the Devils defense slowed down the Tampa Bay offensive machine very well - notably featuring Andy Greene casually poke-checking the puck away from Lecavalier more than once - while getting more than enough shots on Johan Holmqvist, outshooting them 13-7. This play carried into the second period where the game opened up dramatically. Despite Vincent Lecavalier going in, beating Colin White while cutting to his left, and slipping a puck in between Martin Brodeur's legs; the Devils didn't panic. The Devils responded a few minutes later on a 2 man advantage, with Brian Gionta lighting it up. The game became back-and-forth hockey and this is the second most impressive part about the Devils' performance tonight. The Devils and Lightning traded attacks after attacks in the second period and the Devils not only hung with the likes of Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Richards (14 shots by NJ compared to TB's 15), but they were productive. Brian Gionta finished an excellent counter attack from Holmqvist's right side with a strong shot to take the lead and complete his own brace. Less than a minute later, Jay Pandolfo clears a puck to John Madden who charges down the right, makes a last-second pass across the crease to David Clarkson who puts it home for the Devils' third goal. Three goals from New Jersey and they looked good.
Unfortunately, that was the end of the Devils' looking good in the game at all. The third period belonged to Tampa Bay, not unlike how the very first game of the season went for the Devils. First, the Lightning found new life off a David Clarkson interference call. Jason Ward put a rebound that went off Brodeur, floated up, and dropped in like a fluke. This pulled Tampa Bay within one and they definitely smelled blood. For the next 19 minutes and 28 seconds, the Lightning brought everything up on offense including the kitchen sink. Offensive pressure by the Lightning was successful as the Devils decided to bunker for the rest of the game. The Lightning put 14 shots on Brodeur compared to the Devils one - and that one shot wasn't even a good scoring chance. The only scoring chance the Devils had in the third period came at the end when Jay Pandolfo had a shot at an empty net blocked by a stickless Vincent Lecavalier. Fortunately, the Devils defense reacted well to clearing rebounds highlighted by Mike Mottau making a game-saving play in keeping a trickling puck from going into the net. In addition, Martin Brodeur showed the Tampa Bay crowd why he was the best with save after save - not showing any signs of being shaken up by the Ward goal. Tampa Bay was frustrated and the Devils won the game in spite of their third period performance.
This is a bit of a concern. In each of the last 4 games, the Devils have increasingly reverted to an ultra-defensive mindset in the third period. When protecting a lead, that's fine and it has been successful in their last four wins. However, tonight, the Lightning blew through any semblance of a trap that the Devils tried to set up. At the cost of doing little on offense, the Devils were pinned back for stretches of the third period in a bend-but-not-break defense. It bent a little too many times, but it didn't break. Regardless, I hope Sutter doesn't decide to make this late-game bunkering mentality a regular feature of the Devils' gameplan. Hockey is a game where defense quickly becomes offense and vice versa; eliminating one in favor of the other will backfire if the other team can coldly stop the area you choose to focus on. Some more aggressive hockey on offense would have helped keep the opposition honest and a fourth goal would have really taken the wind out of their sails. It's that time of in-game adjustments that put additional pressure on Brodeur last season and I think it didn't reflect well on Claude Julien's coaching despite the Devils' large amount of wins.
I'm glad the Devils have won, don't get me wrong. However, they're not going to keep winning with incomplete performances. Hopefully, this was an aberration and they'll do better against Dallas on Wednesday.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, Devils Issues
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Devils 3 - Atlanta 0; Tampa Bay Tonight
It was an unfortunate loss because last night's game, I think, would have been a great time for Patrik Elias to shine. Elias has always had the skill to turn a broken play into a scoring chance and this game was littered with broken plays all over the place. Shots going wide, passes bouncing off sticks and skates, and possession being lost - tonight was definitely not a textbook example of how to perform on offense.
Nonetheless, the Devils did what they could to cool off a hot team like the Atlanta Thrashers. They won 8 of their last 9 and they came out flying in the first period. Fortunately for New Jersey, Atlanta struggled in getting shots off in the first period with 9 shot blocks by the defense and the aforementioned broken plays. Atlanta looked like the better team with their hustle and the ease they kept carrying the puck into the Devils' zone, but they couldn't do much of anything with it. The second period saw the reverse - the Devils looked more confident, they got more scoring chances, they got more shots (12 to 6), and they scored twice. Rod Pelley put up a tight angle shot that luckily slipped past backup goaltender Johan Hedberg. As an aside, I must note that Hedberg played really well tonight in Kari Lehtonen's place. This first goal was a fluke. Then after two hooking calls within 10 seconds by Atlanta, the Devils made the Thrashers pay on the 5-on-3 power play. Paul Martin put home his first of the season off a one-timer from Brian Gionta. Power play goals are always a good sign, especially ones that just blow past the goalie. Paul Martin getting one was the highlight of a great performance back from injury. Of particular note on offense, Jamie Langenbrunner stirred the straw that stirred the drink tonight with three assists, three takeaways, and two shots on net. He was named the second star of the game over both goal scorers.
In the third period, both teams traded chances and the Devils - like in Pittsburgh on Wednesday - stood up to the task. Ilya Kovalchuk and crew didn't get many quality shots. The only real danger came from Pascal Dupuis who took a pass that split the defense and was absolutely robbed of a goal by Martin Brodeur's left leg pad. Brodeur, as you would expect, was great tonight and with a clean (as in no penalties) defensive effort, the Devils sealed the win. Jay Pandolfo scored an empty-net goal late to ice the game.
Martin Brodeur earned his first shutout - his 115th if you combine his playoff and regular season totals as noted by Gulitti
- and the Devils earned this win. They can't rest now. The Elias-less squad will face the Lightning in Tampa Bay tonight. As Gulitti noted in his post about Elias still being sick, the Devils will go with the same line-up. Personally, I would rather rest Brodeur and play Kevin Weekes tonight. Brodeur has played incredibly well, but Weekes has been very good in filling-in and the Devils don't necessarily need Brodeur to win tonight. But I understand the mindset of letting the hot goaltender continue to play. What I think the Devils will need to do to win is keep up their performance on defense. Not just to not let up on lines that feature Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis, but to avoid handing power plays to Tampa Bay's eighth-most effective power play unit in the league. On offense, the Devils just need to continue to make the most of any given opportunities like power plays and giveaways by the defense. Everything you'd expect from a good performance by a hockey team. Who knows, this may be win #4 in their current streak.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, 2008 Pregame
Friday, November 23, 2007
Quarterpoint Penalty Breakdown
On Interchangeable Parts, Schnookie has a rather interesting way of doling out grades to each of the Devils.
It is roughly the quarter point of the season for the Devils and so now is a good as time as any to see where the Devils stand. A few posts below, Pookie has her own analysis of the Devils squad so far and clearly she is quite pessimistic about the team.
It's a fair argument as it came after the Devils went below the 0.500 mark again with two very uninspired performances. Inconsistency has been the biggest theme of this season so far and it's very hard to be optimistic if you have no idea what to expect from game to game.
At this point, I'd like to point out what has been consistent for the Devils this season. The special teams has been poor the New Jersey Devils overall. While the penalty killing has improved, the Devils currently remain at the bottom third with 20 power play goals allowed and a sub-80% effectiveness rate on the penalty kill. There are two ways to improve that and both are very obvious: improve play on the penalty kill and take fewer penalties. I am not sure what to do for the former, but doing what the Devils did against Pittsburgh's power play from Wednesday night would be a good place to start. Examine what worked, what didn't, etcetera. As far as the second point, well, it depends on what type of penalties the Devils have been taking.
Therefore, I went through the Game Summaries at NHL.com
for each of the Devils' 21 games so far and compiled not only what types of penalties were committed but also who committed them. The latter is easy to find out: you just need to look at the player by player statistics for penalties. There you'll quickly learn that David Clarkson leads the team with 11 minor and 7 major penalties, John Oduya comes in second with 10 minor penalties, and so on and so forth. The penalty breakdown of the Devils, however, is very surprising. What I found tells me a lot about how the team has been taking infractions and which ones result in power plays. So much so, we need a pie chart to breakdown the 109 penalties the Devils have taken so far.
Penalty Breakdown of the Devils season as of 11/23/07 (click to enlarge)
As you can see, the most common penalty the Devils take is hooking. This shouldn't be surprising in that the NHL has been exceptionally tough on small hooks to the hand or the body in order to cut down on obstruction. This has been good for the game since the crackdown came in 2005. Meaning this is the third season and a lot of players have yet to learn that they can't cheat like that. Fighting takes up the second most common penalty type, but they don't result in power plays, so we can ignore that. Interestingly, holding is the only other penalty that the Devils have committed 10 times or more behind hooking and fighting. The rest are fairly sparse. Here are some additional findings that I found interesting from my analysis:
- The Devils' have taken two unsportsmanlike calls this season, both from the bench. In short, Sutter and his crew need to shut their mouth a little more often.
- The leaders in hooking? Travis Zajac and Karel Rachunek with 4 each. But it's fairly spread around the team as the Devils took 32 hooking calls so far.
- Zach Parise has been caught high-sticking 3 times, Jay Pandolfo has been caught tripping 3 times, and Aaron Asham leads the team in boarding with 2 calls.
- David Clarkson is the team's leader in roughing (3), fighting (7!), and holding (2). Clarkson has to calm down a little bit.
- No one really leads the delay of game stat - four players have one minor each in that category.
From this alone, we can easily say that the Devils should keep their sticks on the ice a little more often. They've been shorthanded 90 times this season, so it's not as if the Devils are an undisciplined bunch constantly shooting themselves in the foot with minors and double-minors (counted twice in my analysis). But a bit smarter play, keeping the stick down in general, and the Devils can take even fewer penalties. With a defense that is still gelling (and I'm being kind), fewer penalty kills helps a lot.
Now, let's look at power play goals against. This is where I would have a giant chart that lists the number of power play goals against per player and a ratio of minors to power play goals against. I wanted to see whether there were any players who have hurt the team by committing an infraction. Online and over time, you may hear about how John Oduya is useless or Karel Rachunek isn't good or Colin White takes dumb penalties or something else. I wanted to see whether that was true so far. More to the point, when you hear about a stupid penalty, generally you think of a penalty that one could have easily not committed. I wanted to examine costly penalties - to see how often when player X goes to the box does the other team score. However, because I don't know how to format a chart, I'll go right ahead to my conclusions. I'll post a chart later.
The Devils have given up 20 power play goals - 7 of which were game winning goals against and 4 came from 5-on-3 situations. As further proof that the coaching staff and the players need to be respectful to the ref, two of those four 5-on-3 goals against have come after the team is assessed a minor for official abuse. As an aside, for a 5-on-3 goal against, I counted the goal twice - one for each player. The goal came on a 5-on-3; both players are liable in this case. Double minors were counted twice as minors as it's, well, a double minor.
The most surprising conclusion is that no one player sticks out. The only players who have sat in the box and not have a power play goal be scored against New Jersey are Rod Pelley (3 minors), Jamie Langenbrunner, Mike Mottau, and Mike Rupp (1 minor each). Everyone else has at least one against, but at most per player it's two goals against. Two power play goals were scored total for when David Clarkson (11 minors) was sitting in the box, ditto for John Oduya (10 minors). But the other team has found the net twice while Travis Zajac (4 minors), Paul Martin (4 minors), Zach Parise (3 minors), and Jay Pandolfo (5 minors) were feeling shame for two minutes. This tells me that while Clarkson, Oduya, and others who have taken a number of minors this season give the other team more opportunities to score on a man advantage, it doesn't mean they will. No one particular Devil has been hurting the team with their penalties, rather penalties in general hurt the squad.
The flaw in this sort of analysis now is that the number of penalties each player has taken is still small. Jay Pandolfo has taken 5 penalties so far this season and the other team has scored on the resulting power play twice. Does this mean the other team will have a 40% chance of scoring if Pandolfo screws up? While the current data says yes, intuitively that doesn't make a lot of sense. So keep that in mind with what I have found so far. I don't have this type of information for the other 29 teams in the league to determine whether or not this is sort of even distribution of power play goals against is true for other teams. Nonetheless, we can conclude that Pandolfo taking penalties so far has resulted in power play goals against so it would be best if Pandolfo stayed away from the penalty box.
Overall, I think the best way to prevent a power play goal is to not give the other team a power play to begin with. If the Devils can keep their sticks down, away from the other player's hands and avoid wrapping it around the player, it would help that cause drastically. Will it turn the entire season around on its own? Probably not, but it will definitely help them in close games.
Labels: 2008 Season, Devils Issues
Thursday, November 22, 2007
While the day is drawing to a close here in New Jersey, I just want to take the time wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. We all have something to be grateful for, even if it doesn't feel that way sometimes. Nonetheless, I hope you all had a wonderful day. I thank all of you who give me more of a reason to keep updating In Lou We Trust with more thoughts that may or may not be necessary.
Labels: Personal/Site News
Devils 2 - Pittsburgh 1
This was a defensive effort and it had to be. Paul Martin did not play due to an injury. Karel Rachunek was not available due to his wife giving birth - congratulations to the Rachuneks. This leaves a star studded back six of Vitaly Vishnevski, Andy Greene, Johnny Oduya, Mike Mottau, and Sheldon Brookbank.
Thankfully, the game also featured the season debut of Colin White. Like Jamie Langenbrunner's first game this season, White made an immediate impact. He was solid in positioning, he exerted a physical presence without committing any infractions, and he definitely bolstered the defense. Without White, who would have taken his place and did what he did last night? Olli Malmivaara? No offense to Olli, but I doubt it. I'm very glad that Colin White is able to see well enough to play hockey, much less return to the Devils so early. I'm certain you are as well.
Nonetheless, the Devils were in the house of a very desperate Penguins team that still features Sidney Crosby (11 G, 19 A) and Evgeni Malkin (9 G, 20 A) and slowed them down on defense with only 26 shots allowed, 16 blocked shots. Was it perfect? No, John Oduya is going to catch a lot of deserved flak for his giveaway to Malkin which led to his goal. Nevertheless, outside of that and the fact that three defensemen took three late penalties; the overall defense was good last night. The penalty killers were on form and the Devils successfully clogged up the neutral zone to reduce the number of rushes the Penguins got. That's how I would go about stopping Pittsburgh, incidentally, just make it as hard as possible to get into the zone and go from there. And when the Penguins did break through, Martin Brodeur came up huge in crucial situations - Crosby's shorthanded breakaway, Kris Letang's deke in the slot in the third period - and blocked whatever else the Penguins threw at him. Brodeur is still the best goaltender in the league and his performance tonight is further evidence of that claim. The Devils also got a lot of help from the Penguins getting some really bad bounces - passes eluding their players, pucks bouncing off sticks - despite the goal, Malkin didn't look so good and Jordan Staal was nearly invisible.
What really helped New Jersey were the Penguins' lack of discipline. Many of the calls were quite obvious - I'm sure head coach Michel Therrien let his players know about how poor those infractions were. Sticks on the hands, Penguins grabbing Devils, pretty much all of them could have been avoided had the Penguins played with cooler heads. The most surprising was Sidney Crosby's two penalties early in the third period. The first was were Crosby's trip of David Clarkson where the top talent in the league swept his leg into Clarkson's trailing leg leading to the trip. Crosby should really be above that. The Devils made the Penguins pay dearly for that, as it led to the game winning goal. The Devils were the beneficiaries of six power plays and for a change, they took real advantage of them. This was followed by Crosby expressing his anger about what just happened and he naturally says something stupid to the referee. Obviously, the ref sit the captain back down for another two minutes. I don't care how talented he is, captains of teams - in any sport - should not be hurting the team in such a manner.
But enough about the Penguins' poor discipline. Let's talk about the upside of all that. The Devils were good on the power play. After The Devils took 13 of their 28 shots on net with the man advantage. More importantly, the Devils scored on the power play! Twice! Zach Parise finished off some excellent passing with the man advantage on Marc-Andre Fleury's left side twice. This is fantastic. This is wonderful. For so many times this season, the Devils would get 3, 4, 5, or more power plays and they would not convert any of them. Tonight, in a sloppy game between two teams who many expected to have better records by now, the Devils actually scored twice on the power play. I really hope this will lead to improved production on the power play now that they finally got one (and a second) through the goalie. Some of the pressure should be off of them now.
But what the Devils may now have is momentum. This is the first time since November 2 that the Devils won two games in a row. And they will need it for the next two games. On Friday, the Devils visit Atlanta who will likely be looking to get revenge for the tough 6-5 loss the Devils inflicted on them back on October. Moreover, the Thrashers have been hot with 8 wins in their last 9 games. After that fun little excursion, the Devils will visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. The Lightning are led by the league's leading scorer, the always-threatening Vincent Lecavalier (14 G, 20 A). What's more, I'm very confident the Lightning will be looking for blood as the last time the Bolts got owned, pwned, and qwned by the Devils 6-1 in their last game. I'm sure Kevin Weekes will get one of those starts - I'm just not sure which night however. It'll be an interesting back-to-back road trip this weekend and even if the Devils get one win, maybe it should be seen as a success.
Labels: 2008 Postgame
Monday, November 19, 2007
They seriously called Larry Robinson that back then. As a nickname.
Standing tall at 6'4" with blond, bushy hair and an imposing 225 pounds, Robinson was a complete defenseman for one of the most complete dynasties in sports history - the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s. That was a team loaded with talent: Scotty Bowman behind the bench, Ken Dryden in net, Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer leading the attack, and a roster featuring Rejean Houle, Pete Mahovlich, and Steve Shutt; Larry Robinson stood out both in size and in play. He led the defense, which also featured Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard among other defensemen. Robinson was big, you didn't mess with him physically. Robinson was swift, you couldn't just get past him or slow him down too much. Robinson was skilled, becoming the all-time leader in goals (187) and assists (689) by a defenseman in the entire history of the Canadiens franchise. Robinson was a winner, winning 6 Stanley Cups - four in a row from 1976 to 1979, 2 Norris Trophies, and a Conn Smythe trophy as the defensive backbone for Montreal.
Robinson was a complete defenseman who was solid as a rock from 1973 through 1989, and he wasn't terrible in a two year stint with the LA Kings shortly thereafter. Robinson wasn't through with hockey, becoming an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils in 1993. He was so pronounced at it that he became a head coach with the Kings a few years later. In 1999 he returned to the Devils as an assistant which also didn't last too long as he became the head coach with New Jersey again in 2000. After infamously throwing a garbage can in the playoffs, the Devils reloaded in the Eastern Conference Finals and defeated Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals, earning Robinson's sole Stanley Cup win as a head coach. He remained in the organization, became a head coach for a bit, left due to health problems, but remains as an assistant on the current team.
Nobody can doubt Robinson's accolades, as he was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.
But tonight, Robinson gets further established as a Montreal and hockey legend as his number was retired prior to the Canadiens hosting the Ottawa Senators. The Devils official website has a piece on Robinson for his night of glory
, the official website of Les Habs just let numbers do the talking.
Nobody wore #19 since Robinson and now no one else will ever do so for Montreal. Not that anyone would want to have to live up to wearing that number.
The same probably goes for his nickname.
Labels: Devils Legends, Hockey - General
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Tale of Two Games
Tonight, the Devils went to Philadelphia and stomped all over the Flyers by a score of 6-2.
The Devils led throughout the entire game after scoring. It wasn't perfect - the power play unit went 0 for 4 and the team took too many penalties with 6. But the penalty killers were perfect, Brodeur made a ridiculous save, and the Devils seemed to score in every way. Dainius Zubrus opened things up on a goal off a rebound. Karel Rachunek took a perfect slapshot that beat Martin Biron as he was rushing the puck up the ice. Patrik Elias scored off a rebound for the eventual game winner. Jay Pandolfo picked up a coughed-up puck, rushed up the left side of the rink and beat Biron short side. Brian Gionta finished up a what-should-have-been broken breakout by literally chipping the puck over Antero Niittymaki's shoulder and into the net. Zach Parise slid an Elias rebound through Niittymaki's 5 hole. It was all awesome. The defense was aggressive, the Devils successfully carried out some break-outs and carried the puck into the zone, and the Devils looked good. This is apparent in Josh's live-cap of the game at 2 Man Advantage.
I am, well, confused. We see the Devils play poorly one night and literally on the next night they look rather good. Which team are the real Devils? The one we saw tonight, or the one we saw on Friday? I really don't know. I hope it's who we saw tonight.
Until we see the Devils string together a couple of good performances in a row, I won't say that the team has turned the corner. But at least we know that the Devils definitely do have the talent and the work ethic to win hockey games - they just need to utilize both more often.
That all said, congratulations to Martin Brodeur for securing his 500th win! Roy's record awaits! And even that will fall in a few seasons. Keep on being the best, Marty! We're behind you 110%!
Labels: 2008 Postgame, 2008 Season, Devils Issues
Thursday, November 15, 2007
This Team Doesn't Suck, Only For Now
I would like to argue against Patricia's key argument:
It’s not lack of effort. No, not at all. This team tries. Certainly tries hard. Maybe not for, well, a full 60 minutes a night, but they damn well do the best they can out there.
Problem is, there’s not much talent.
I’d love to sit here and proclaim Red ‘n Black to be the little engine that could, but I’d be lying. And I don’t like lying.
Now, I would agree that the team doesn't try hard every night for a full game. But it's because of that inconsistent effort, the Devils tend to falter. Consider last night's game, the Devils had a fairly good first period and had good stretches in the third period - but it was their total lack of effort at both ends of the rink in the second period that doomed him. Look at these other posts I had on previous Devils losses. For example, the 2-1 loss to the Islanders
last Saturday, the 5-0 rout by the Pittsburgh Penguins last week
, the Prudential Center opening night loss to the Senators
, and the season opening loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
I made these posts shortly after those games, so I remembered them well at the time of writing and the lack of effort and focus at times (or periods) was definitely apparent and a cause for the loss. All games where the Devils did not respond to the other team's adjustments and let the other team control the game for a period or more at a time. The consistent effort isn't there. The team does not work hard enough.
The team does have talent at forward with Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner up on the top two lines. Rookies David Clarkson and Rod Pelley are proving to be assets to the team. Dainius Zubrus and Aaron Asham are fitting in; and Jay Pandolfo and John Madden are doing all right so far. The defense is definitely lacking in talent due to it's inexperience; but it's not any worse than, say, Pittsburgh's or Philadelphia's and it'll improve when Colin White returns. And the team has one of the best goaltenders in NHL in Martin Brodeur and a very good back-up goalie in Kevin Weekes. Is it a loaded roster, no; but it's not devoid of talent either. The problem seems to be that the talent doesn't have the associated effort and focus necessary to win games on a consistent basis. Sometimes it's there and so the Devils look good in a win and I'm willing to say that they're "back," and then the next night, the Devils play poorly in a bad loss and everyone's miserable about the team. Therefore, I can't agree with Patricia's argument.
I also can't agree with Patricia's statement that Elias is an unneeded component. So his production is inconsistent - so is everyone else's on the team. Yes, he gets paid the big bucks and yes, I think he can do better; but I can say that about almost everyone else on the roster. Elias alone raising his game isn't going to help them win games, it's only going to happen when the other players do so as well every night. This is an issue of motivation; and I seriously question how the players motivate themselves and how Brent Sutter gets the team ready. I do not know what goes on this locker room, so I can't go into more details.
Here's where I can, though. The team can simply be more effective by being calmer on the ice. Yes, calmer. On penalty kills, the defenders seem too passive because they are too nervous to make a move. On the power play, the Devils normally don't do what needs to be done to set up a shot (e.g. dumping it in the corner right to the other team, etc.). On even strength, the Devils make passes that go astray or to the wrong team; and should they make their passes, the shots taken tend to hit traffic instead of hitting the net.
If the Devils want to improve their control of the game, they need to take their time a bit more in their decision-making on passing and shooting. On offense and on the power play, they need to simplify their passes and shots in their attack. Cross-ice passes and long passes can be effective if they hit their target; but if they tend to not hit their target, it's a wasted opportunity. For a team that isn't scoring consistently, the team can not afford to waste opportunities. In addition to trying to muscle players off the boards, why not enter the slot and do the same - getting and putting home rebounds? They don't need to be one-timers across the crease all the time. And when the Devils are doing that, the shot doesn't need to come from the point - and if it does, the point-man should take it without an opposing player being right in front. The passing doesn't have to be a home-run shot, short and steady passes can work just as well at the right time. Just simple hockey. The same follows on defense, standing to wait for the opponent to make a move all the time is just asking to be rolled over. Getting in front of a pass or a shot is a risk that needs to be taken sometimes - and that can't be done if the defender is too worried about being beaten while making a move.
By trying to play less fancy hockey and calmer, the Devils can retain possession of the puck more often. And when you possess the puck, there's a good chance you're possessing the game. If the Devils can control what's going on, they'll have improved incentive to stay motivated and work to win the game. These are small adjustments that I think the Devils can make in games and work in practice that the Devils can do to improve how they play.
But ultimately, the team needs to work harder in games. This is the only way they'll be able win consistently. That's obvious. What isn't so obvious, is that working on little things like simplifying passes and calming down to make better decisions with the puck and on defense. That will help them win those games and turn the supposed corner in their season. Is my idea the only way? Of course not. I just want to see the Devils want to be the team they have the talent to be; and I definitely think this is a team that's better than 7-9-2 after 18 games.
Labels: 2008 Season, Devils Issues
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Rangers 4 - Devils 2 - Guts 0
Yesterday, I talked about how the Devils showed they had guts in their recent 3-2 win over Pittsburgh.
In the 4-2 loss the Devils suffered tonight
, they didn't show it. In fact, they really didn't play that well at all. OK, the first period and parts of the third period were good; but yet again, the Devils clearly weren't in it to win it for all 60 minutes. Martin Brodeur wasn't sharp and gave up a softie on the eventual game-winner. The defense was too passive at times, letting the Rangers move the puck as they want on some possessions, as well as letting the Rangers do as they wish around the crease. I know it's Brandon Dubinsky and not Brendan Shanahan, but he still burned you for a goal; you can't let any
opposition player just set up to put home a rebound or to set up a screen.
The offense degenerated into a dump-and-chase-fest that was somewhat effective. Effective when the passing wasn't away from the target or hopping the puck over their stick or going right to the other team and when the shots weren't going right to another body that easily blocked it. The power play? Absolutely inexcusable - you get 6 power plays in game, you need to at least generate offensive pressure on the goaltender, if not score - and they only did that on their final man advantage. The penalty kill? See the defense. Did the coaching make the right adjustments? You tell me, because I didn't see it from where I was sitting at the game.
With the exception of the absolutely fantastic game played by Jamie Langenbrunner. I didn't expect him to do much, but he earned his increased ice time and scored a brace to keep the score look less embarrassing than the game actually was. I have absolutely no problem with Langenbrunner's performance - even if he didn't score, he looked good in his first game back. Everyone else (save for Kevin Weekes as, well, he didn't play) played poorly and should be embarrassed by this loss. This was a bad loss in that the Devils played inconsistently and far below expectations. It's only the first time Our Hated Rivals come to Newark and the return of Jamie Langenbrunner and it's after a good win over Pittsburgh, I guess I was foolish to expect the Devils to carry any momentum from that into the actual game.
The fans? We Devils fans also got embarrassed by being out-shouted, out-chanted at the end, and out-cheered by the fans of Our Hated Rival. Granted, they had a lot more to cheer about; but getting into fights in the stands and yelling "Flyers swallow" louder than "Rangers suck" at a game where the damn chant is actually appropriate for a change is mind-boggling. Yes, I'm talking about only a few fans - I'm not trying to indict the entire fanbase (which includes myself, who also wasn't loud enough in making noise) - I'm just unhappy about the entire night as a whole.
Yet another bad game after a good one. Guts, heart, or hustle? Sorry, not tonight, try again later. Story of the season so far. I'm not positive about the ending, but I'm confident it will suck unless something changes. I don't think it has to be a big change, perhaps just a few small ones, but something has to change. Now.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, Devils Issues
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Was it a great game? No. The Devils were out-hit, they were beaten more often than not on faceoffs, they were swarmed with offensive pressure for stretches at a time, they didn't capitalize on many of the opportunities the Penguins handed them in terms of turnovers and penalties, and the Devils had their stick broken or removed far too many times. You can argue that the Devils should have won by a larger margin or that they should have lost to Pittsburgh - both are quite valid.
But there was much to be very happy about. The Devils didn't fear the offensive dynamos Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They played with 7 defensemen regardless and trusted the game to the backup: Kevin Weekes. Weekes played very well and the defense was fairly good considering the opposition's attack. Moreover, the Devils didn't let Dany Sabourin into their heads and actually attacked the Penguins' defense a number of different ways. This is evident in their three goals: Travis Zajac took a shot from the circle after a dump-in and cranked it through Sabourin's legs for the first goal; Zach Parise finished a cross-crease pass on the power play; and Patrik Elias capped off an odd-man rush to get the game winner off a cross-ice pass from Brian Gionta.
In that last complex sentence, there's plenty to be proud of. Going 1-for-6 on the power play is poor, but when you're going into the game with zero power play goals in the last 19 attempts, getting a power play goal is worth commendation. Also, Patrik Elias getting his first goal in a long time - 11 games, to be precise - and it was a big one that got New Jersey 2 points. Lastly, how the Devils handled an increasingly-desperate Penguins squad in the final minutes of the game was perfect. They took advantage of Penguin turnovers - which were commonplace and if I were a Pittsburgh fan, I'm screaming for Ryan Whitney to be better with the puck - and challenged the Penguins with shallow dump-ins. Sabourin didn't leave the net until time was really waning and even then the Penguins did little.
The Devils, in short, showed guts. They didn't do everything right, but they did more than the other team and so they got the win. Now, the next step is to show it and work hard for a second straight game. With Our Hated Rivals coming to the Prudential Center for the first time, emotions will run high. We, the fans, will gladly cheer and scream loudly for New Jersey and boo and jeer mercilessly for New York. There are other intangibles, as well. Surely, Martin Brodeur will be starting in net and you can bet any amount of money that he would love to get career win #500 against Our Hated Rivals. Almost as impressive is what Tom Gulitti is reporting at Fire & Ice, Jamie Langenbrunner may be returning to the line-up for tomorrow's game.
Nothing is set in stone - just like Aaron Asham may not play - but the possibility is there and Langenbrunner's return may provide a spark to the team. Even if it is at the expense of David Clarkson's slot (which he may still have since Asham or Langenbrunner may be out). Nevertheless, these intangibles would be in New Jersey's favor.
It's going to be "on" in the stands. At the least, it will be "on" in Section 1 as much as I can get it to be "on," screaming as loud as you are in the hope of victory. The expectation will be for the Devils to bring "it" on the ice. Tomorrow, we will learn whether or not the Devils have the guts and get their first win this season over Our Hated Rivals in their brand new home. I certainly think they have it, the team just needs to show it off again.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, 2008 Pregame, Devils Issues
Monday, November 12, 2007
Thank You, Veterans
Technically, Veteran's Day in the United States is observed on November 11 and since it was on a Sunday this year, it was observed today. Nevertheless, I would like to offer my humble thanks to all the veterans who have served America and would-be veterans who will serve America.
Labels: Personal/Site News
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Hall of Fame Induction Monday
On Monday, 4 more players and 1 builder will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Legends of Hockey - an official site related to the Hockey Hall of Fame - has all the information from the prior weekend and biographies about the inductees. NHL.com has a ton of information about them as well.
The players, well, you may have heard of them already. Al MacInnis
, Ron Francis
, Mark Messier
, and Scott Stevens.
You can list one trait about them almost immediately when thinking about each of these players. MacInnis? Ridiculous slap-shot. Francis? Playmaker. Messier? Leader. Stevens? Open ice-hit. However, that wouldn't be enough. In addition to reading those Legend of Hockey profiles I linked earlier, NHL.com has two articles on each of those players that go into further depth of each player. They were more than just one trait - each of them are arguably among the best players in their era.
I assure you, I'm not trying to shill NHL.com; but these are some very well-written and enlightening pieces on each of the inductees. I highly suggest you read them. I can't really say that much more about Stevens other than that I am very fortunate to have seen him play and that I am proud that he is getting what he deserves. He will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive defensemen to have ever played the game, a cornerstone and leader in the emergence of a franchise, the most powerful and effective hitter in hockey history (so far), and the first New Jersey Devil to achieve greatness with his retired number #4 and this induction. I don't care what you tell me, I believe Stevens is a much better defenseman than Ray Bourque regardless of how many Norris trophies the latter has over the former. I know he wasn't always a Devil -originally he was a hot-headed offensive defenseman on the Washington Capitals - but he developed into the defensive force he eventually became known for (along with his hitting) first for St. Louis for a second and from then on for New Jersey. To me and to everyone, he will always be a Devil and I can say to Mr. Stevens is "thank you" for doing what he did to make the Devils more than a good team, but a great team.
Regardless of how the Devils do tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, the fact that Scott Stevens will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame will make it a great night for the New Jersey Devils.
Labels: Devils Legends, Hockey - General
Islanders 2 - Devils 1, Brodeur Still at 499
I don't know what else you would like me to type here about the game. The Devils didn't play like they gave a semblance of a damn until the last 2 minutes of the game. I can't really elaborate on that. Don't tell me about the officiating; had the Devils actually worked hard and skated hard, it wouldn't have mattered. They didn't and so they let the Islanders dictate the entire game.
I will say that this is the source of the inconsistent play that has marred the Devils' season so far. Some nights, they look like garbage. It's not just Patrik Elias or Brian Gionta who looks bad but pretty much the entire team save for a few players (who is usually the goaltender). Other nights, they look like they could beat anybody in the world and do so decisively. As a result of this, the team can't get into any kind of groove, lines can't develop a lot of chemistry because they keep being changed, and the team ends back up almost where they started. I think Sutter alone can't fix this; the players themselves must motivate themselves to play well every night. You can yell at somebody all you want; but if their heart isn't in it, not much will happen. The players - all of them save for Brodeur and Weekes - need to get it together and get it together fast. The eventual return of Jamie Langenbrunner may spark this, but it really shouldn't come to that - it needs to happen regardless.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, Devils Issues
Friday, November 09, 2007
Watch Tomorrow: It Could Be #500
1. Colin White took part in his first practice since his horrific eye injury back in pre-season.
2. Jamie Langenbrunner continues to practice - and it looks like his return is imminent.
3. Martin Brodeur could win his 500th game on Saturday night at Long Island, as he will be starting in net tonight.
About the first two points, seeing core players getting healthier is always good news. Langenbrunner can provide some help on offense with his strong slap shot, his dynamic two-way play, and his heart. White would definitely provide some needed stability, experience, and improved defensive presence on the blueline.
About point #3, I have to say, I'm a bit sympathetic about Kevin Weekes. The Devils have played 5 games in 10 days so far this month; but I don't see him getting the start in Pittsburgh on Monday and definitely not at the first Devils home game against the Rangers. I don't think Weekes will be too unhappy, though; Brodeur is set to become the second goaltender ever to pass the 500 win mark. Given Brodeur is a spry 35 years old and could conceivably earn 25-30 more wins this season; we could see Brodeur become the all time leader in wins sometime most likely in 2009. Though, technically he could do it in 2008 if he has an absolutely fantastic season like he did last season.
In any case, thanks to the crack marketing and promotion staff of the Devils organization, I want all of you to pay close attention in the next few nights. It could be tomorrow - I hope it's tomorrow, I would like to think the Devils are better than the Islanders - but it could also occur next week. The Devils have a sure-fire Hall of Famer in net about to crack a historic milestone. It's OK to actually trumpet this fact. It makes you wonder why the team isn't pulling out any stops to promote this fact, assuming I'm not missing any promotion by the Devils.
It kills me (metaphorically), to be honest. The Devils have been very successful over the last 13 years and yet the organization seems to do so little to trumpet this fact. I'm confident that many casual fans would be motivated to check out the Devils to see this once-in-a-lifetime goaltender either in person or on TV. Unless I'm mistaken, the Devils haven't been promoting this. It's as if they want to be awesome in relative quiet.
Ultimately, in the bigger picture, the fact that Martin Brodeur will pass the 500-win mark is nothing short of spectacular with or without promotion. I'm just carping about the organizations' lack thereof promotion in general. I just hope the team does something - even something small - to highlight this accomplishment when Brodeur does achieve it. And it could be tomorrow, so tell all your friends. Tomorrow's game against the Islanders isn't just a division match-up, we could see history being made.
Labels: 2008 Pregame, 2008 Season, Devils Issues
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Devils 4 - Flyers 1
First, the criticism:
-The Devils started a bit slow and conceded the first goal of the game, a power play bomb from the point by Mike Richards.
-The Devils conceded too many penalties: handing the Flyers 7 power plays.
-Speaking of power plays, the Devils had 6 power plays and couldn't finish on any of them, including a double-minor in the first period.
Now, what actually matters:Friends, this is how we do it.
The Devils fully woke up after the Richards goal and began to take the game over. 4 goals in even-strength play on Martin Biron. 39 shots on net, with only 14 shots against. The Devils did not dump and chase the entire game, they actually carried the puck into the zone at times and crashed the net to great success - and were unfortunate to light up back-up Antero Niittymaki. The defense was absolutely solid, the penalty killers were good after the first power play against, and the offense was threatening all night long. The game featured a number of firsts: Dainius Zubrus' first goal as a Devil, Rod Pelley's first ever NHL goal, and Martin Brodeur was solid in what little he faced in earning his 499th career win. The Devils finished their checks, the finished off the Flyers, and played a solid three periods of hockey. After a terrible loss, this is exactly what good teams are supposed to do - they respond to a bad loss with a strong win.
Labels: 2008 Postgame
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
The Unspecial Teams
It is evident that the Devils' special teams have been horrible to start the season. It's so bad that James Mirtle attributes a large part of the Devils' poor start to the atrocious penalty killing.
The team stats at NHL.com
definitely agree and if you just looked at them, you wouldn't need Mirtle saying as such. The Devils are 29th (yes, 29th, as in not last) on the penalty kill with an effectiveness rate of 72.4%. It's not as if the Devils became an undisciplined bunch of goons, the discipline is more than fine. New Jersey has been shorthanded only 58 times this season. Only 3 teams have been shorthanded less than that. Unfortunately, opponents have been able to break the Devils' stalwart passive box having conceded 16 power play goals. The power play is also poor with an effectiveness rate of 15.4% - 10 goals on 65 opportunities.
The question that Brent Sutter and the Devils must answer is: what must change to improve the Devils' penalty killing and the Devils' power play?
First, the penalty kill. The most important thing, I think, on any penalty kill is awareness. The Devils appear to play a passive box style of penalty kill. By slotting the four players around the slot, the Devils allow the other team to pass around the perimeter but not to get a clear shot on net or a clear pass across the slot. From what I've seen, where the Devils have failed is in being aware of who is moving around the box. This is almost as true on regular defense - opposition forwards have found ways to get into the slot and be free to do as they wish. In my opinion, the Devils need to start stepping up when an opposition player sneaks into the slot from the corner or if the opposition starts to perform a triangle style of power play. Instead of waiting until the play turns the players way, the Devils should attempt to clear the crease. No, they can't hit them - that would be interference - but there's no rule against taking away space from the player by closing in on them. That may yield a shooting lane, but if it's done right, Martin Brodeur or Kevin Weekes would be able to see the shot as they won't be screened; and the probability of a deflection or the opposition taking the requisite rebound will be greatly reduced. In short, I think the Devils need to be more assertive upon any opposing player looking to get closer to the crease on defense in general. I think it would force the opposition's attack to remain on the outside looking in and yield less traffic in front of Brodeur/Weekes. I'm not sure how that wouldn't be an improvement.
For the power play, I've noticed the Devils are looking to employ an umbrella formation with an offset point man, a man at the center of the point, and three more up front. I know Patrik Elias has a great shot and having him at the center of the umbrella would lead to many more options - a pass up front, a hard shot into traffic, a dump into the corner, or a pass to the other point man (usually Paul Martin). I haven't seen it too much, so I don't think it's a bad idea for Sutter to consider such a set up more often. But overall, I think the power play needs more options on offense. Too many times the power play seems to be a matter of just setting up a shot at the point which is usually ill-advised because the opposition's defenders are right there to block the shot or because there's so much traffic in front that the chance a shot would get on net would be slim at best. Not every power play should be an umbrella; Sutter should explore different formations at different points in the game. If the other team is being beaten silly around the boards, the Devils should cycle the puck in the corners while looking for an open pass. If there is a mis-match in coverage, the Devils should play a positional-based power play. If the goalie tends to give up lots of rebounds, overload the slot and just fire away at open shots. Even if it doesn't yield more goals, the Devils can find some new methods on how to approach a power play, generate offensive scoring chances and momentum, and use that to carry on through the rest of the game. Sticking to the same old thing, the Devils taking shots where opposing penalty killers are in positions to block said shots, has yielded little production. Mixing it up may yield a lot more. I think now is the time to take some chances.
The season is not over for New Jersey. But that doesn't excuse Sutter or the team for performing better. I think Sutter realizes this, as one can infer from Tom Gulitti's post Pittsburgh-debacle post.
Still, I emphasize that the issues with the special teams must be addressed. Perhaps what I just wrote are terrible ideas; but given the results so far, the current approaches on special teams are just not working.
GET YOUR VCRS/DVRS READY: Per Tom Gulitti's blog
, Fox Sports NY is honoring Scott Stevens with tomorrow's pre-game programming schedule.
Yes, 7 hours of Stevens-related coverage. Why? Because he's Scott Stevens. Also, because he's going to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday to get inducted. Awesome.
Labels: 2008 Season, Devils Issues
Monday, November 05, 2007
An Erudite and Intelligent Analysis of Tonight's Game
Here are the results of tonight's game against the Penguins according to NHL.com.
The following players failed tonight: Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Brian Gionta, Patrik Elias, Sergei Brylin, David Clarkson, Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, Dainius, Zubrus, Aaron Asham, Rod Pelley, Mike Rupp, Paul Martin, Andy Greene, Mike Mottau, John Oduya, Sheldon Brookbank, and Vitaly Vishnevski.
The following players did not fail but were strung up, left alone on an island, and were not at a direct fault for the loss but didn't help matters much: Martin Brodeur, Kevin Weekes.
The following coaches failed in preparing and adjusting the Devils' lineup and strategy during the game: Brent Sutter, John MacLean, Larry Robinson, and Tommy Albelin.
Sherry Ross on the immediate post game analysis on the radio was absolutely correct: the game was a complete embarrassment - there is no other word to describe it. The Devils were an absolute embarrassment on the ice. Little effort, weak offense, a nonexistent power play, nonexistent heart on the ice, constantly losing the battles along the boards, struggling with passing and clearing the puck, and the defense was atrocious. Simply atrocious.
I imagine the thought process by the defenders (both defensemen and backchecking forwards) was, "Hey, guys, let's have Sidney Crosby get wide open in the slot! Twice! I wonder what could possibly go wrong?" I imagine the thought process by Sutter was, "Hey, it's one of the premier players of the league! Let's not shadow him or clear the crease on a constant basis - let the Penguins forwards do what they want. In fact, if they keep beating us on the boards and force us to do the same thing on offense, let's not have the players do something different - let them keep beating us and clearing it out with ease!" This followed by the players thinking "OK! Let's get out there and get outskated, outworked, and outplayed on our own rink!" The only ones thinking otherwise being the goaltenders, who their thought processes was likely, "We are going to be screwed and screwed hard tonight," an absolutely correct supposition if I do say so myself.
This was more than a bad loss - this was a rout in every sense of the word. So bad that the two young girls - Penguins fans, mind you - started reading an US magazine throughout the third period and still followed what was going on. I don't blame them, the game was more than over by that point.
Tonight, the Devils sucked. At every possible facet that one could possibly suck at the game of hockey at a professional level. They sucked and this loss sucks just as bad. This was not solely one player's fault - the entire team failed.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, Devils Issues
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Rangers 2 - Devils 1, SO
I don't feel too unhappy that the Devils lost to the Rangers tonight.
I know, I know, that shouldn't be coming from any Devils fan but before you write me any nasty e-mails or comments, hear me out.
Tonight, the Devils actually were the better team for all 60 minutes. Did you get that? That's the entire game in regulation. A consistent, strong effort. The offense ran into a hot goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist and a stingy Rangers defense - but they still put 29 shots on net. They were unfortunate in a number cases in having rebounds elude them or Lundqvist coming up with a big save, but that's still production. As an aside, I find the Rangers' use of the 1-2-2 formation in coming back on defense over the recent seasons. I can't place my finger on where they could have came up with that idea, though. Could their finishing improve? Of course, but you can't say the offense was an abject failure when Sergei Brylin put home an equalizer from a pass by John Oduya shortly after Scott Gomez' goal. Nor can you say that when David Clarkson puts up 6 hits and 7 shots in 11:33 of ice time.
Anyway, back to the Devils. The defense was actually solid and competent. I can't blame a single player for being poor. OK, Paul Martin really needs to dish the puck more rather than shoot it from the point, as his shot leaves a lot be desired. But that's a minor point. And the Devils defense committed some poor turnovers; but they were few and far between. The Devils in backchecking and on defense took a lot of bite out the Rangers' offense and forced them to take low percentage/highly save-able shots all night long. They weren't afraid to get physical - both in giving and receiving checks. Vitaly Vishnevski in particular displayed some big hits and had a good game overall. The penalty killing units were very good tonight, not conceding a goal. That is particularly massive considering how poor they have been to start the season. Above all, Martin Brodeur played very well all night and shut the door down when the Rangers did get shots on net.
The only areas where the Devils were outclassed was on the power play and in overtime. For the former, the Devils have resorted to an umbrella which I like but they need to really make Patrik Elias a focal point on the power play. He's got a strong shot, he has good vision, and he can pass - he can provide many more options than simply being at the point. As for the latter, the Devils were just outplayed in overtime but because of Martin Brodeur, it was all for naught for the Blueshirts.
Considering how inconsistent the Devils have been, they came into someone else's arena after a close win over Toronto the night before and play solid if not dominant hockey for all 60 minutes in an up-and-down, end-to-end (and very exciting and entertaining) hockey game. That's more than just a little silver lining in a dark cloud, in my opinion.
And that is why I am not too unhappy about the loss. I assure you, I'm not pleased that the Devils lost. I would have loved to have seen a Devils win. I always love it when the Devils succeed where the Rangers fail; but they got a point for their efforts on the road and weren't as lucky in the shootout - that led to the loss. While the Devils didn't get the result I wanted to see, I can't be irate or upset or terribly unhappy about a game or a performance like what New Jersey put on the ice tonight.
I think the Devils are really turning the corner and we could see them further improving on Monday night against Pittsburgh.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, Devils Issues
Friday, November 02, 2007
Devils 3 - Toronto 2; Why the Win was Good
The New Jersey Devils defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 3 to 2. NHL.com has the recap here
, which has all the links to the box score, super stats, and all sort of other information about the game.
Now, the reason why tonight's win was a good one is not obvious. All wins in their own way are good - the team we all want to succeed actually suceeded. In the long run, that's all that matters. That's what the standings count. It doesn't matter if it was a 6-5 barn-burner or a 6-1 blowout or a shootout win. Wins are wins. But tonight's is of particular note.
The Devils were not the better team on the ice for much of the night, but they won anyway. The reverse of what we have seen so many times this season.
The Maple Leafs looked better than the Devils for the first two periods. They were better at hustling for the puck, they did a better job at defusing the Devils' attack, they were tougher along the boards at times, they put more shots on net, and they executed their passes and shots much better than the Devils. In contrast, the Devils looked to be in a haze for stretches in those first two periods, with their forechecking not being really effective and their passing to be randomly horrible all not long. Furthermore, the Devils' gameplan was apparent from halfway the first period onwards. The Devils went forward with either A) lateral, cross-ice passing going into the zone, B) long passes along the boards that the Devils chased for, or C) dumping and chasing the puck in the corners. The Devils found some success with this, but Sutter did not adjust or modify the strategy when Toronto started playing just as wide as New Jersey did. In short, the Leafs were the better team on the ice considering the entire game.
Yet, the Devils succeeded. Why? First and foremost, Martin Brodeur kept the team in it. When Toronto was putting up some difficult shots, Brodeur was there. And he was definitely there tonight, only being beaten by Alexander Steen finishing off a video-game like move (seriously it was great except he did it against the Devils, but I can't not respect the skill) and Mats Sundin getting a good bounce on a desperate late-game 6-on-4 (maybe 3.5 since Sergei Brylin lost his stick) power play. If that's what it takes to beat a goaltender, then the goaltender has played well. Brodeur was even better, holding the Leafs to Steen's tally in a rough, Toronto-dominated second period.
Second and almost as important, the Devils capitalized on enough opportunities. Obvious, but important to note. The Maple Leafs coughed up the puck more than a few times and sometimes those long passes were enough for the Devils to beat the defense. That's how David Clarkson broke through for his goal ad that's how John Madden powered down the rink on a shorthanded beauty of a goal. If the team can make the most of what few chances they get and get goals, their chances of winning clearly (and obviously) go up. Madden's shorthanded goal was crucial as was Zach Parise's lamplighter. Which leads me to point three: the Devils didn't completely give up on the game and showed up in the third period. The Devils looked a lot more lively in the third period, outshot the Leafs in that period, and put more pressure on the Leafs' defense and their goaltender, Vesa Toskala. Tonight was the reverse of the Devils not playing well after some good periods; because the Devils didn't give up, they took whatever chances they got and succeeded. Parise had 3 to 4 shot attempts, but he didn't give up on the play - he pressed forward and eventually was rewarded. I didn't think Parise played particularly well before the third period, but he turned it up in the third period like the rest of the team.
It's a cliche in sports - which I wish I could avoid but I can't, sorry - but good teams win games they probably shouldn't be winning. Again, the Leafs were the better team for much of the game; but the Devils capitalized and didn't give up on the game. That's how they got tonight's win and that's why I feel tonight's is especially good. This time, the Devils were on the right side of the team not playing 60 minutes. Do they need to improve? Of course. Sutter needs to be more willing to adjust his strategies as he is with his line-up and the Devils have to execute much better when passing and dumping the puck. But that can happen for the next game - tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
Labels: 2008 Postgame, Devils Issues
Thursday, November 01, 2007
October in Review; Devil of the Month
The first month of this season was rough. A nine game road trip ending with only 3 wins, a loss in overtime, and 5 losses. In those five losses, they lost a possibly winnable season opener at Tampa Bay, lost decisively at Ottawa, and they were shutout three times by the Florida Panthers, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the New York Rangers. The Devils lost their home opener at the Prudential Center to the Ottawa Senators 4-1; despite playing well for two periods, a poor third period loomed and doomed the Devils. New Jersey ended the month on a high note with a blow out win over Tampa Bay, 6-1.
The word of this month would be inconsistent. The Devils would score 6 and 5 goals - against Atlanta and Pittsburgh respectively - and then follow that up with 4 goals scored in the next 4 games. When the offense was clicking, the defense was exploited and regularly beaten as the Devils gave up 5 and 4 goals to Atlanta and Pittsburgh respectively. On some nights, nothing seemed to work well for long as evidenced by the three shutout losses. It was a month of where the Devils would play well for 1 to 2 periods, but play poorly enough in that other period to lose. Inconsistent in effort, inconsistent in focus, inconsistent on defense, inconsistent on offense, inconsistent (and just plain bad) on special teams, and inconsistent in execution. I can't think of a better word to describe the Devils' performance in October 2007.
However, it's worth keeping in mind that this is not the first time the Devils started average or worse in a season. In 2005-2006, the Devils went 6-5 and in 2006-2007 the Devils went 6-4-1. OK, those were better Octobers for New Jersey but nothing to write home about. Furthermore, those years had the Devils on the wrong side of a rout, such as the 8-1 loss to Ottawa in 2006
and a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in 2005.
My point? There are going to be some less than great stretches for New Jersey, but they are a good enough team to rise above them. Writing off the Devils after this month would not be a wise choice. The rest of the NHL surely won't, I don't think we as fans should either.
So. Who was the best Devil this month? For such an inconsistent month, I have to go with the most impressive player. Clearly that's Jay Pandolfo. Yes, he did end the month in a brilliantly amazing fashion that could be described by some as preposterous. I mean, 3 goals and an assist from Jay Pandolfo? In one game? Pandolfo did just that last night, the first win at the Prudential Center by the home team. But it wasn't just last night that was impressive. Pandolfo currently leads the Devils in goals with 6. Anytime Pandolfo gets 2 goals in a month is good considering his past offensive production. 6 is just amazing. But Pandolfo has came up big in absence or in conjunction of the other lines showing up to play. Take away last night's hat trick and Pandolfo has as many goals as Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and one more than Patrik Elias. He's been a constant presence on defense and the penalty kill on the left wing. Both with and without John Madden, Pandolfo's game hasn't dipped - though I'm glad Sutter realized that Madden and Pandolfo are better together than apart. With the hot hands, he's even seen some power play time as of late. Yes, Parise and Madden have more points but in a month plagued with inconsistent play, the consistency of Pandolfo is worthy of recognition. Ergo, Jay Pandolfo is the ILWT Devil of the Month for October 2007.
Labels: 2007-08 Devil of the Month, 2008 Season