Monday, December 31, 2007
Happy New WJC Day!
- In Group A, the big story is Canada's 3-4 loss to Sweden. It was a thrilling game from all accounts, with the game winning goal coming from Tobias Forsberg with 7 seconds left to play. The Swedes went on to win Group A with 4 wins in 4 games, earning a bye into the medal semifinals along with their 4-2 win over the Czech Republic. Canada, due to the loss, finishes second in the group thanks to today's 4-1 win over Denmark. Fortunately, the host country, the Czech Republic, finished 3rd in Group A with 2 wins and 2 losses to move on in the tourney.
- In Group B, the top squad were the Americans. Led by current tournament scoring leader James van Riemsdyk (4 goals, 6 assists) and goal scoring leader Colin Wilson (6 goals, 1 assist), the Americans handled all of their opponents. Though one may be concerned with their effort throughout the game. They were leading Finland 5-0 at one point, but they conceded 3 in the third period to Finland. Yes, USA won, but giving up 3 goals in the final period isn't exactly encouraging. Nevertheless, they handled Russia (who finished second) and they beat Finland (who finished third). They have earned their bye to the semifinals.
- In the realm of relegation, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Denmark, and Switzerland are all competing for the right to remain in the top tournament for next year.
- Matt Halischuk has been doing rather well in the tournament. He's got a goal with 2 assists, he's a +3, and he's committed only one minor infraction so far. Halischuk has seen plenty of ice time, particularly on the penalty kill. If Canada is to succeed further in the tournament, players like Halischuk will need to go from strength to strength.
- Quarterfinals will begin on January 2. Canada will play Finland, Russia will play the Czech Republic, and Sweden and United States will do nothing as they have byes.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
One Win, One Loss, One Conclusion
In any case, this game had "bad" written all over for the Devils. Once again, the Devils failed to do anything with their power plays - they are now scoreless in their last 5 games on the power play. But that's not even the worst of it. The Devils committed the ultimate sin of coughing up the puck in their own end and getting scored on by defenseman Chris Campoli's catch-and-shoot. It was a great shot, I will admit it. Yet let me spell this out for you in capital letters: THE DEVILS TURNED THE PUCK OVER TO A DEFENSEMAN WHO PLAYED THE PUCK BACK TO HAVE IT COME BACK TO HIM FOR A SCORING CHANCE HE CONVERTED ON ALL WHILE BEING SHORTHANDED. THAT IS...er...that is absolutely unacceptable. Mike Mottau, in particular, should know that as it was his turnover that led to the horrible play.
There was more, the Devils conceded a power play goal to go down 2-0 in the game in the second period. The power play goal came on the Devils' fourth minor of that period - Aaron Asham's unsportsmanlike conduct. This after a David Clarkson interference call, two Mike Rupp minors (one followed by the other), and two fights by Clarkson and Rupp. I don't know about you, but I'm not enthused at all with Mike Rupp in the lineup as he didn't bring a lot to the proverbial table. The Devils finally woke up sometime after that goal and decided to start fighting back in a meaningful sense. Zach Parise roofed a backhander to pull within one. The Devils looked pretty good in the first half of the third period, capped by John Madden putting home a rebound for an equalizer. The final 10 minutes of the game were horrible for Devils fans as the Devils went on to give up 3 goals, totally sealing the win for the Islanders. Granted, that third one was an empty net goal; but Andy Sutton's one-timer in the high slot killed any Devils' momentum. Sean Bergenheim's goal a little more than 3 minutes later buried said momentum. It was a pretty bad loss after such a close and good win over Buffalo. This quote from Brent Sutter in NHL.com's recap summed it all up perfectly.
"When you play a team you haven't beaten yet in your division this year, you'd think there would be more of a sense of desperation to want to play one of your better games," Sutter said. "For 30 minutes, we were a very average hockey team. Then we woke up and played well the next 20 minutes. Then it looked like we never learned how to play defensive zone coverage before."
With respect to the power play, Tom Gulitti has reported that the Devils worked on them entirely at practice this morning. That's a start. Hopefully, the Devils will look to improve in these areas over the next few weeks.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Game Tonight, WJCs, Other Things
In the meantime, let's take a look at what else is out there:
SELF PROMOTION WARNING - The following sentences are pure self promotion. If you have a heart condition or any type of medical condition, you should probably get that taken care of if you haven't already. Any self promotion will have likely have nothing to do with it, it's just general common sense advice.
Interchangeable Parts has been running a "bloggers questionnaire" and I decided that I should actually respond. So I did, it's now up at IPB where they say many complimentary things about me and this blog. Many compliments. I'm blushing almost as much as Chico did after he got caught on camera licking his hand for ketchup from a hot dog last season.
END OF SELF PROMOTION WARNING - You may return to the rest of this post; but if you seriously have a condition - take care of it if you haven't already. Seriously.
Now we come to the World Junior Championship part of this post. First, I have to correct an omission. Hockey's Future Radio has set up their site to give updated analysis, scores, and rosters from the ongoing World Junior Championships. Now that the omission is dealt with, let's take a look at what's going on.
- New Jersey prospect Matt Halischuk has been doing fairly well so far. In 2 games, he got a goal and has been seeing plenty of time on both even strength and the penalty kill. As I understand it, he's been playing on the same line with 2008 hot prospect Steve Stamkos. Canada, as a whole, has been playing well with wins in their first two games over the hosting Czech Republic and Slovakia. They face Sweden tomorrow and Denmark on Monday to finish out their group.
- How's Denmark doing? Not well. They got owned, pwned, and qwned by Sweden 10-1 today and they were thoroughly beaten by the Czech Republic on Thursday, 5-2.
- The United States has been doing well in their own group with a 5-1 win over Kazakhstan and today's 4-2 win over Switzerland. They face a big challenge tomorrow against Russia, who has been idle since Thursday. Hopefully, New Jerseyans James van Reimsdyk (2 G, 3 A) and Bobby Sanguinetti (1 G, 1 A) will continue to lift their team to new heights in spite of any fatigue.
- All stats and scores from IIHF's WJC 2008 page.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Devils & Accuracy Part 2
However, the comparison stops being favorable when you consider the opposition. The opposition must enjoy playing at the Rock too. While they get 6 fewer opportunities to shoot on average, they are almost 5% more accurate and miss nearly 3 fewer shots on average! Yes, their average shots on net when they host New Jersey, but surprisingly they are not as accurate in missing more shots on average Not that hosting New Jersey doesn't have any benefits; opponents block an astonishing 13.36 shots on average! The Devils players must think twice about shooting into traffic, especially on the road, because they are getting denied quite a bit.
OK, so there does seem to be difference between the home and road in terms of shot accuracy. Now, let's look at a more obvious point of comparison: wins and losses. Intuitively, I thought the Devils would be more accurate than their opponents when they do win and less accurate than their opponents when they lose. Therefore, I set up another chart with the same averages, calculated between Devils wins and Devils loss:
Here, my intuition was correct. The Devils, on average, put more shots on net, make more attempts to shoot, and their percentage of those attempts hitting the net are greater than their opponents when they win. While the Devils make more attempts on net than their opponents on average when they lose, the opposition puts more shots on net and a percentage of those attempts hitting the net than the Devils. This chart does show more than confirmation of what one would expect. The opposition still blocks more shots on average than the Devils regardless of whether the Devils win or lose. Regardless of the Devils achieving victory or defeat, the Devils still miss approximately 11 shots on average. This is another area that I would suggest the Devils players would work on: those 11 shots could become much more dangerous and perhaps even goals if more of them are on net. Interestingly, while the Devils block more shots on average in losses, the opposition blocks more shots on average in both situations. The Devils could also stand to get in front of more shots in general. Nevertheless, the Devils are more accurate in their wins than in their losses, which makes sense to me (at least).
So through these comparisons, the most obvious conclusion is that the Devils could be more accurate. The opposition blocks more of the Devils shots than the other way around regardless of the Devils winning or losing and regardless of the Devils being on the road or at home. In addition, the Devils miss more shots on average than the opposition. It isn't all bad, the Devils are consistently making more attempts at shooting the puck than their opposition. However, the fact the the Devils are missing so many shots on average and having so many blocked shots on average are both sources of lost opportunities. Not just because those missed and blocked shots would go on net and have a low probability of resulting in a goal. When a shot is missed or blocked, it means the offense failed to do what they set out to accomplish. Momentum suffers when a shot by the Devils is blocked, scoring chances are wasted and momentum suffers. This makes the Devils efforts on offense much more difficult. Also, the Devils defense needs to make a better effort in blocking shots if only to make it easier on the Devils goaltenders.
In short, the Devils are not as accurate as their opposition and for the New Jersey offense to be more productive, the players will need to improve in setting up shots, deciding when to shoot through traffic and when not to, and in their shot accuracy in general. It would also be more beneficial if the Devils defenders make more of an effort getting in front of shots to reduce the workload Brodeur/Weekes would face on a night to night basis.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Devils & Accuracy Part 1
Nevertheless, my focus is on how accurate the team and the opposition is in shooting the puck. Shots on net are self-explanatory. Obviously, this is what we want the Devils to have a lot of and what we want the opposition to have as few as possible. However, I don't believe it's enough to just have shots on net. The key is accuracy, so the questions that must be asked are how many times are the Devils (and the opposition) are trying to get a puck on net and how often are they successful. In addition, it is good to know how often are the Devils missing the net and how often they are getting denied. In looking at the opposition's numbers, we can get an idea as to how the defense is helping out Martin Brodeur and Kevin Weekes in terms of workload. One last thing: I'm going to be using the term "attempt on net." I have defined this to be the total of shots on net, missed shots, and blocked shots. This is assuming that a missed or blocked shot wouldn't be recorded unless it was going to be on net otherwise.
So enough explanation and background, let's get into it. What I did was I collected the total shots on net, blocked shots, and missed shots from both teams from every Devils game so far this season. In the 36 games played so far, we can safely say that the Devils are one of the better defensive teams in allowing an average of 26.47 shots per game and an average of only 47.08 attempts on net per game. This is especially favorable when you consider that the Devils average 27.81 shots on net per game and 51.47 attempts on on net per game. However, all is not rosy. The standard deviation of total attempts per game by both the Devils and their opponents is quite high, so it's a highly fluctuating value. More precisely, the opposition is much more efficient with their attempts on net, putting the biscuit on net 3% more than the Devils on average. Most importantly, the Devils are not as accurate as their opponents have been. As proof and further data, I summarized all of this into a handy chart.
My apologies for the ridiculous lack of precision in these values. However, the chart shows that the opposition is blocking approximately 2 more shots than the Devils block on average; the opposition is missing nearly one fewer shot than the Devils; and the percentage of attempts on net between the two parties is quite clear. The Devils, by these stats, are not as accurate as they could be. On some nights, the difference is pronounced; the 3-2 shootout win against Atlanta earlier this month had the Thrashers shooting with 83.3% hitting the net! The Devils weren't too bad in putting 56.25% on net; but the Thrashers were just hitting all of their shots on net. Fortunately or unfortunately for New Jersey, there doesn't seem to be an obvious trend; the total attempts on net and percentage of shots hitting the net vary between the two parties. These two graphs will show just that:
However, while it's clear the Devils could stand to miss fewer shots and be smarter about when they shoot the puck, we can't say whether or not this has any real affect on winning. Moreover, it's not clear as to whether playing at home or not has any affect. It could be that the Devils are not as aggressive in putting the puck on net on the road, but they are more accurate and efficient. It could be that the Devils win regardless (or in spite of) their shot accuracy. I have some further insight into that as well as a larger conclusion, but I'll get into that tomorrow. Today, I just wanted to establish my intentions; show that the Devils are not as accurate as their opponents; state how often the Devils and the opposition do get their shots blocked, miss their shots, and a percentage of attempted shots hit the net; and show there aren't any clear trends in either case.
Tomorrow: Part 2: These stats broken down by home vs. away, wins vs. losses, and an overall conclusion.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Labels: Personal/Site News
Monday, December 24, 2007
Devils 1 - Calgary 0, OT
Before I get into the game from a Devils-standpoint, I have to say that this was an excellent hockey game to watch. It was physical, both teams skated hard, and both teams truly gave a hard effort on the ice. Anyone who says the NHL needs more scoring or need rule changes to make the game more exciting clearly did not see this game. In fact, were I in the proper authority in the NHL, I would have recorded a copy of this whole game and send it out to all the critics. Hockey is still the best game in the world because in the middle of the regular season, right before a holiday break, you still have two teams go at it with intensity and vigor.
Now, that all said, this was not such a great win for New Jersey as it was for Martin Brodeur. The Devils were horrific in discipline in the first two periods: conceeding 6 penalties to Calgary. When you're on the road against a hot team like Calgary - no pun, the team is 7-0-3 even with this loss in their last 10 games, handing them 6 power plays is a terrible idea. A big reason why NJ was dominated in the second period, being out-shot 14-4, was due to the 4 penalties they took. Why didn't Calgary capitalize, how were they not able to make the Devils pay the price? Martin Brodeur. Brodeur didn't get the first star of the game, but he should have in stopping all 30 of Calgary's shots - earning his 95th all-time shutout. Some were weak, some came right in the slot, and Brodeur even stopped any other errant shots after the whistle. Brodeur was a shot-killer out there, Calgary was a mess when it came to finishing. I can't really say that the defense was totally weak - it's not as if Calgary just boogied into the Devils' turf at will for 60 minutes. Nevertheless, the penalty killing units definitely had a lot of work and have to thank Brodeur for saving their bacon many times.
Fortunately for NJ, Calgary couldn't be the better team for all 60 minutes. In the third period, the Devils clearly played better despite being outshot again. They didn't concede any penalties and as the game opened up, the Devils took it to the Flames more often. All game, the Devils have found success in forechecking the Flames as well as taking the puck away - 12 times to Calgary's 6. The Devils didn't succeed in capitalizing on any big turnovers; but John Madden in particular was a force. The checking center had 3 takeaways, won 16 faceoffs, and 23:18 of ice time - with 7:12 coming on the penalty kill. Madden had a good game; personally I would have named him the third star of the game for what defensive efforts he brought to the table.
However, the hero of the day was to be Patrik Elias again. Where Brodeur kept the team in it, the offense couldn't crack the impregnable goaltending of Miikka Kiprusoff. Kiprusoff was great, but he made one crucial mistake after a Flame made another one. As the game went into overtime, Craig Conroy lost control of the puck at the point. Patrik Elias zoomed onto the puck, kept his balance after Conroy's stick his legs, and dished it off to Brian Gionta. The play became a two-on-one, Gionta masterfully slid the puck below the defender's stick to Elias. Elias was brave as you could get, driving to the net as another Flame was in the midst of taking him down. Elias did what he could and successfully took Gionta's pass and shot it as a one-timer. There, Kiprusoff made his big mistake.
He did not close his legs as he went down.
The puck went off with the necessary velocity at the necessary angle to slide underneath Kiprusoff, ending the game less than a minute into overtime. It was a great goal, a great way to end a great game, and once again Elias was the man who put a point on it. The Devils will have to avoid taking so many penalties, be more aggressive on offense, and play a more complete game. However, on the road against a tough team like Calgary, their effort was sufficient - with a fantastic end. Considering the Devils currently are #1 in the Atlantic with a 5 point lead, I can't complain.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
WJC 2008: The Matt Halischuk Show
If you're looking for a Canadian-centric as well as a complete source for the WJC that isn't by the IIHF, TSN.ca has an entire section for the tournament. And you'll do well to use it; with respect to the New Jersey Devils, there is only one Devils prospect in this tournament. No, it's not Alexander Vasuynov - for some reason, Russia did not select him. No, it's not Nick Palmieri, he was not selected by USA Hockey. It's, well, clearly stated in the title. 2007 4th Rounder and currently unranked by Hockey's Future among the Devils' top 20 prospects, Matt Halischuk has been having a good season with Kitchener. He is currently the team's second leading scorer with 12 goals and 36 assists. I dare suggest this is a breakout year because until this year, he has never represented Canada in international play. Being selected onto their WJC team is a huge accomplishment and it speaks highly of what Team Canada sees in Halischuk.
While coverage of the WJC in the United States is limited at best, I'll note anything worthy within in tournament be it the United States succeeding or Halischuk doing something of note.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Devils 3 - Oilers 1
The picture has all I have to say. Here's links to the NHL.com Recap and the IPB Live-cap of the game, if you like.
Labels: 2008 Postgame
Friday, December 21, 2007
Attention: Defense, Show Up!
And the sad thing about it is that the past few games have been ugly defensively for the Devils. In the 4-1 loss to Phoenix last Saturday, the Devils conceded 38 shots to the Coyotes. In the 4-2 win over Philadelphia the next night, the Devils allowed 31 shots by the Flyers. In the 5-0 rout, the Devils did only concede 24 shots; but when you're allowing 5 goals, it doesn't mean much. In these past three games, I've noticed that the Devils defenders have been more passive in their coverage - allowing the opposition forwards much more space on offense. I understand the idea of letting them move the puck around; you can't really shoot if you're constantly forcing the opposition to pass the puck. But without aggression, the opposing offense will happily be patient or just start taking shots where need be. Especially when the team leaders in blocked shots, a tie between Andy Greene and Vitaly Vishnevski at 45, average less than 1.5 blocked shots a game. If I'm scouting New Jersey, I relay this key stat to my team and tell them to "fire away." Basically, Martin Brodeur (or Kevin Weekes) has to play like an all-star to keep the team in it. And some nights, even that's not enough.
The offense needs to be more consistent, the discipline needs to get better, and the effort needs to be there every night. But for a supposedly "defense first" team, the first step must be to step up the defensive game by the team. This means not allowing the other team's skill players to have 2 feet or more of ice open in front of them, being more aware of how the other team is setting up the play, and to actually take the man in the slot. I'd rather have the Devils take a penalty than to allow an opposing forward have a juicy chance to shoot and score or to put back a rebound. Tonight against Edmonton is as good of an opportunity to turn it around as any. Otherwise, get ready for more line and pairing changes, more changes in strategy, and more of the inconsistent hockey from New Jersey.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Movie Review: The Rocket
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Phoenix 4 - Devils 1
Labels: 2008 Postgame
Friday, December 14, 2007
The Past Week
Now it's Friday and with back-to-back home games, the Devils are back on winning ways. They should get a result against Phoenix tomorrow afternoon provided they take the game seriously. The fans should get the results of tasty and cheap hot dogs for dollar hot dog Saturday - that is something I can personally guarantee. The Flyers on Sunday will be more of a concern as the Flyers would love to avenge their two big losses at the Rock. Plus, Philadelphia will be flying with Mike Richards, who got a 12 year contract extension according to TSN. Richards is a very good player, but clearly Philadelphia sees something special in him. He better be at the price they tied him up in; watch the Devils not care one bit as they will hopefully look to put another beat-down on the Pennsylvania Pylons. Nevertheless, we could be looking at the Devils still standing tall after this weekend in spite of the tough losses earlier this week.
Monday, December 10, 2007
The State of NJ Wants Your Money
But tell that to the legislature. I don't think they won't listen. The bill is being fast-tracked apparently, and it's being reported in the news likely well after any real chances to kill it. So get ready to deal with even higher prices because some know-nothing legislator deemed it so, with their reality-and-common-sense challenged legislator colleagues ready to sign on. I'm sure the "traffic control and security costs" could be made up with improved financial organization or even charging the organization more. Making the fans pay the cost, which will undoubtedly give people on-the-fence about the arena a big reason to not come, is absolutely short-sighted and stupid.
Thanks, New Jersey. Even without the NJSEA, you continue to stick it to an organization who has brought a lot of goodwill and pride to the state, as well as it's fans and visitors.
ASIDE: I'd like to point out that the bill does not include a similar tax for visitors to the Izod Arena or Giants Stadium. The Devils' Prudential Center are being specifically targeted.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Rangers 1 - Devils 0, OT
Analysis? Here it is: This loss sucks because the Devils weren't fully in it and the Rangers were.
Labels: 2008 Postgame
Today: Our Hated Rivals
What can I say to help out the Devils here? Nothing but hackneyed phrases like "play like a team, play for all 60 minutes, &c. But a little message from Herm Edwards from the 2007 Kansas City Chiefs training camp (and featured on HBO) would be appropriate.
Silly, yes, but I fully want the Devils to understand that crucial point.
Do not be afraid to be great.
Let's go Devils. It's almost time to shine.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Devils 3 - Washington 2 - Melrose 0
As far as the Melrose hate goes, if it was there, I didn't hear it. I was up in the upper section opposite the Loudest Corner of the Rock - sections 231-233 with the Crazies right in the middle. I'm sure they had plenty to say but the crowd overall did not have anything special to say about Melrose. This includes myself and I apologize for coming up with chant ideas and not having the proverbial "grapefruits" to try any of them out. In the crowd's defense, the upper section successfully performed the Wave for a good 3 minutes followed by the lower section continuing the Wave for a length of time afterwards in the third period. In any case, the night was Scott Stevens Hall of Fame Tribute Night and many of the videos on the big screen were about Stevens - Melrose wasn't shown once. That was the major point of the night outside of the game, even recognized on the front page of NHL.com (at least, it was there when I went there as I type this). That's fair enough, I suppose the media coverage about Melrose's visit sufficed to put him in his place. Melrose came out of Newark with a more positive view, according to Jeffrey Mays of the Star Ledger. Melrose, as well as the fans, also came out of Newark seeing the Devils beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 to win their ninth straight game. As always, that link takes you to the NHL.com recap of the game.
This game was easily one of the worst performances the Devils given in their nine-game winning streak. Yes, in the last four games or so with the exception of the Montreal thrashing, the Devils started the game very poorly - giving up the first goal, generally looking listless, and letting the other team dictate the play. But in those games, the Devils dramatically turned their performance around and fought back hard to not only become the better team in the game but also the winners. Last night was the opposite: the Devils looked very strong in the first period. The Devils were unfortunate to get only 2 against Capitals' goaltender Olaf Kolzig. The Devils offense, especially on their first power play, made Kolzig move and flop around with the Devils only foiled by either A) bad luck in finishing or B) absolutely desparate defending. But the Devils did get 2 and they were sweet: Vitaly Vishnevski picked up his first of the season with a beautiful individual effort. First, he intercepts a Capitals clearance in the middle of the ice at the top of the zone (note: Even I know better than to clear the puck up the middle, let this be a lesson to the Capitals defense). Vishnevski powered closer to the net with the puck, dangled the puck to his backhand, and let the backhand loose which fooled Kolzig for goal number one. I never knew Vishnevski could do that. The second goal came from Dainius Zubrus who was in the right position in front of the net to put home the rebound off of a Brian Gionta shot. Heavily outshooting the Capitals 12-5 in the first period, the Devils were rolling.
Unfortunately, for the rest of the game, the Devils stopped rolling. As the game went on, the team became more and more passive. On offense, they weren't nearly as threatening as they could have been. With a shaky defense and Kolzig in net, the idea of just putting the puck on net as much as you could wouldn't be a bad one. But they tried to set up more than they needed to and therefore didn't get as many shots on net as they could have. More glaringly, the Devils on defense - and in general - let the Capitals take more control of the game. They allowed the puck carrier more space than he should have to make a play and they didn't cover open men as well as they needed to - which led to both goals scored by Washington, someone missing a man near the net. Instead of the Devils putting the hammer down and just decisively beating the Capitals, the Devils did not continue working as hard as they did in the first period and essentially let them back into it. It didn't matter how often Brent Sutter sent out of the Madden unit against Ovechkin's line; the line-matching wasn't the key to success in this one. Thanks to Martin Brodeur, a quick goal by Travis Zajac in response to Washington's first goal of the game, and some wasted chances by Washington, the Devils prevailed.
However, my main concern is that the Devils are not nearly playing as well as they did at the start of this streak. Should the Devils lose, which will eventually happen, no one goes on a 50+ game winning streak ever, the question becomes, "How will the Devils respond after a broken streak?" And if that response means returning to play less than 60 minutes of hockey, to return to a completely passive defense, and to return to a letting the other team dictate the pace of the game, the winning streak might as well be followed by a losing streak. Because the Devils will lose many hockey games if they regress after this streak; and they will end up back to where they started before the streak - on the outside in the competitive Atlantic Division. Fortunately, the team seems to be aware of this, as indicated by this quote from Martin Brodeur (via Tom Gulitti's Fire & Ice, emphasis is my own):
Up next is Sunday's game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Devils are 0-2-1 against the Blueshirts this season and a combined 0-4-2 against their two metro area rivals (Rangers and Islanders). "It's our big rival and we're (0-2-1) against them and we're going to play them eight times, so if we want to have a decent record we've got to get going here," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "It's a team that plays us well and, hopefully, we'll get our A Game and be a little better than the last few games."I would hope so, considering tonight's performance was definitely not an "A" game performance.
I have to emphasize that I'm glad the Devils won, I'm glad that the Devils now lead the division, and I'm especially impressed that the Devils swept their 5 game homestand to continue the streak. But I would be lying if I were not concerned about how the team has been playing - as indicated from last night's performance. I - like many Devils fans - will be incredibly unhappy should they lose to Our Hated Rivals and if the loss would lead to a tailspin back to the bottom of the division. We just read that the team knows they can do better, hopefully they will and add their first win against Our Hated Rivals tomorrow.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Barry Melrose Comes to Newark
"Don't go outside if you have a wallet or anything else, because the area around the arena is just horrible."
- "HOLD YOUR WAL-LET" (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap, repeat) - Obvious.
- "WASH YOUR HAIR" (repeat) - Obvious.
- "Scene of the Crime" by Ratt - I don't know if anyone would know the lyrics, but Melrose totally bit his hairstyle from Warren DiMartini.
- "YOU CAN'T COACH" (repeat) - The Kings under Melrose: 82-103-31, one Gretzky-willed trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and two postseason misses.
- "ARE YOU BRIAN ENGBLOM IN DISGUISE?" - Dye Melrose's hair, and they look similar.
- "KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL" - Nothing to do with Barry. I know the Crazies do this on penalty kills, the rest of the arena should do it too if only because it sounds menacing.
- "BARRY'S AFRAID OF THE ROOOOCK" - Hold the first syllable on "rock."
- Booing every time Melrose is on the big screen (which I expect) and everytime Viktor Kozlov has the puck (which I also expect, Kozlov was horrible in New Jersey).
- Nothing - Well, ESPN ignores hockey, so perhaps we should ignore Melrose?
- Spelling out "E-S-P-N S-U-C-K-S" - Well, they do. Because of the ignoring hockey thing. And whole lot of other reasons.
Elias, Eight, and a Concern
Last night also indicated the big difference in coaches. Last season, Claude Julien would still be line-matching throughout the entire game even when the Devils were down 3-0. Sutter noted that the Bruins' forecheck got weaker and weaker as the game went on and he had the Devils change their attack accordingly. Sutter realized how hot the Elias line was, so he kept sending them out and sending out the forwards to attack. Defensemen were allowed to join the attack. As far as the Bruins go, after they went up by three, the Bruins attacked with less aggression and fell back into a trap. A trap the Devils were able to exploit and claw their way back from a giant hole. After the second period, with the score being 3-2, one would expect the visiting opposition to push real hard for an insurance goal. Not Julien. The Bruins kept the same game plan, came close a handful of times, but they let the Devils back into it. The Devils were able to adjust. That's the difference.
And for the Devils, they needed to adjust. They were absolutely putrid in the first period. Brodeur got beat, the defense was paper thin, and the best shots on offense came from the point and didn't seriously challenge Tim Thomas - who did play well prior to injury - at all. This needs to change. Well, OK, it did change. The Devils got their heads together, checked their guts, went out there, and fought back from 3 goals down to force an overtime - where they won. The Devils won their eighth game in a row and when a team is in a streak, they find ways to win games from poor starts. But this is the third time in the last four wins where the Devils didn't do well in the first period. They not only conceded the first goal in all three, but in the Dallas game they gave up 2 to start, the Devils were lucky to tie it up against Atlanta, and last night they let up 3. They were dominated in those three games and it took a better team effort for the Devils to come out of them with a win. However, those superb comebacks aren't always going to happen - streak or no streak. The Devils need to improve their recent performances in the first period and play a strong 60 minutes of hockey to continue their successes. The streak will not last, but it would make winning hockey games a hell of a lot easier.
Will the streak continue on Friday? Given it will be Scott Stevens Hall of Fame Tribute Night, I would expect the players to be pumped up. Also consider the opponent: the Washington Capitals have the worst record in the league and the fewest amount of wins with 9. Guarantees aren't appropriate, but a nine game winning streak for the Devils is, well, let's say it's definitely possible.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Toys for Tots Tomorrow
ALSO: Tom Gulitti is reporting that Jay Pandolfo isn't playing tomorrow and that Lou is looking into the ice issue. He says it has to do with the computer system that monitors the environmental conditions, in that the system doesn't work right. It's great that we finally have an actual explanation as to the poor quality of the ice at the Rock. It would be better, of course, when it is fixed. Hopefully, that will be soon.
Undrafted to the NHL: Clarkson and Greene
Clarkson isn't just the leader of the team in penalty minutes (65) - he's been contributing on the box score with 3 goals and 4 assists while rotating between the top 6 forwards and the third line. His talents has allowed him to play many roles: pest, physical presence, defensive forward, net-crasher, and others. He's got a strong shot, he's got little fear on the ice, and he's pretty strong. He certainly impressed me last season in his first NHL game back in March, and with his entire short call-up with the Devils last season. I said he reminded me of a young Randy McKay and he's definitely playing like it. He's becoming a fan favorite here, but he really showed what he could in that short call-up and it's great that he's continuing to play the way he does.
Greene didn't come out of left field like Clarkson. OK, Greene, like Clarkson, was undrafted and the Devils scouts sought him out for a professional contract. Unlike Clarkson, Greene was very good coming straight out of Miami of Ohio and into the Devils training camp. He spent 56 games in Lowell primarily due to salary cap reasons, and back in late February, I thought that the Devils traded David Hale to create the cap space for them to call up Greene. And, lo and behold, I was right as Greene was called up soon after and played 23 regular season games with New Jersey as well as all 11 playoff games. He looked pretty good to start with then. Now, Greene is in a top 4 defenseman spot and he doesn't look out of place. Don't get me wrong, he can improve and he'll need to - but given that he looks alright with his current workload, I would expect him to get even better. Moreso if/when Sutter realizes that Sutter has some offensive skills and puts Greene on the power play. Again, an undrafted player that wasn't really heralded except for the hardcore Devils fans who knew about his potential from drips and drabs of information until he got onto the ice and played. Again, playing in a full season opened up even more eyes.
It's great that Mirtle - and presumably anyone else - recognizes players like Clarkson and Greene. However, I want to take it a step further by stating that these two players are proof that you don't necessarily need to be a highly regarded prospect or a first-round draft pick or even a draft pick at all to contribute to a NHL hockey team. The fact that the Devils discovered them and helped develop them to be who they are today (and who they will be tomorrow) speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the Devils' scouting and the Devils organization for taking a chance and signing them. The important thing to consider is good players with talent and skills come from all possible areas. It may surprise you, but I'm sure those in the organization who see them practice and play every day would tell you it's not much of a surprise at all.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Devils 3 - Atlanta 2, SO
Labels: 2008 Postgame
November in Review, Devil of the Month
This month saw the return of two important Devils to the team: Colin White and Jamie Langenbrunner. White returning to the team was huge; I'm personally amazed his eyesight has recovered enough to the point where he could play hockey again. And he has contributed to the team the minute he returned to the ice - giving the defense some needed stability with his positional defense and his physical play. He played 17:25 in his first game back and has played at least that much in each of his five games this month. White was missed and it's great that he's back.
But a bigger return was Jamie Langenbrunner. He came back to the Devils in a brutal 4-2 loss against the Rangers and immediately made an impact with 2 goals - one coming within the first minute of the game. Since then, he has been a hard working winger and being the star that stirred the drink for the Devils on offense and on the power play with 9 assists in the last 5 games of the month. Back in October, I expressed doubt in Jamie Langenbrunner being a leader of the team. Now, I can definitely see it - while his return didn't immediately kick off the Devils' recent turnaround, he has been a huge factor in the team's improvement this month. While Zach Parise scored more points this month and Martin Brodeur played the most consistently, it is for that reason alone that I am naming Jamie Langenbrunner the ILWT Devil of the Month for November 2007.
For a different, player-by-player take, check out Scott Mackie's November review at 2 Man Advantage.