Friday, December 14, 2007


The Past Week

Well, let's go over the last week. I didn't have a lot to say right after the Rangers and Capitals games on Sunday and Monday, respectively. The Devils played well for seemingly 10 minutes on Sunday - excepting Martin Brodeur who was absolutely amazing, the Devils lost in overtime 1-0 on Sunday, the winning streak was broken on Sunday and it was frustrating to watch. In retrospect, considering how the Devils played, what can one expect?

The next night in Washington was more of the same. The Devils did not play well except for some stretches and despite some fortunate goals. Again, in retrospect, the Devils didn't play like they wanted to win and so they didn't - losing 3-2 to the Capitals. Sure, there was some controversy over a Mike Mottau goal being disallowed for a kicking motion that didn't actually exist; but had the Devils not slept walk through the first two periods, it wouldn't have been a big deal. If one focused on those two games alone, one could easily conclude that the Devils are going to follow their winning streak with a losing streak. After all, the Devils didn't play complete, strong games of hockey in the second half of their streak. Bad periods in a hockey game become two and close to three, and so teams lose games. A perfectly reasonable result considering what was going on.

Then something interesting happened on Wednesday, thanks to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, evidence that Brent Sutter is not a coach who takes any sass. After watching Aaron Asham lollygag through a drill, Sutter (verbally) had it out with Asham with the lovely quote, "Whatever. That's the way you've been playing for two weeks." Given that Aaron Asham has not stepped it up in Boston, I'm not sure it worked. I'm heartened by the fact that Sutter wants intensity to be present at practice with the idea that it would show up in games. OK, it hasn't occurred in every game but it was there during the streak and it occurred on Thursday night in Boston. However, I must wonder if Sutter normally responds like this - if he does, I would imagine he'd have to be concerned about his own influence on the team. If the gambits work, then great; but if it leads to the team tuning him out, well, Sutter will have a rather large problem. For now, I don't think it's an issue - I'm just saying that the possibility is there. As further and more heartening signs, Sutter did insert John Oduya back into the line up for Thursday's game to give him a chance (also via Fire & Ice).

And so on Thursday, in a crowd that definitely looked and sounded more than 1,500 on TV, the Devils took on the Bruins and won 3-1. The Devils weren't completely sharp, but they were the better team for most of the game. Jamie Langenbrunner was the main man with a great shot on a 5-on-3 power play and with the game-icing brace. Bruins captain and stud defenseman Zdeno Chara was the main goat, as Chara broke Dainius Zubrus' stick during a Andrew Alberts-based 4 minute minor and Chara coughed up the puck in his own zone with the empty net right to Langenbrunner. If there was a main criticism, it's that the Devils were unlucky on offense. Despite the lead, the Devils didn't hang back and try to play defensive hockey throughout the third period as we saw many times when Claude Julien - the current Bruins head coach - ran the bench in New Jersey. No, they pushed for a goal and if it wasn't for some bad luck and unfortunate misses, they could have had at least one more. In particular, Dainius Zubrus had a laser just hit the post and Zach Parise had a glorious scoring chance in the slot but put it right at Alex Auld's legs. As far as Asham and Oduya are concerned; one stepped it up, but one did not. Oduya played 18:15, picked up an assist, and looked steady in his own end. Asham played only 5:37 and was foregettable. Needless to say, Asham is still in Sutter's doghouse.

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.

So much in just one week. And without even mentioning the IIHF and NHL opening talks over the transfer agreement between leagues (except Russia, via TSN), Anaheim trading Andy McDonald to St. Louis for Doug Weight and the cap space for Scott Neidermayer, steroids, and Devils prospect Matt Halischuk making the Canadian WJC team.

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