Saturday, March 31, 2007
March in Review & Devil of the Month
After two absolutely solid months of performance, perhaps there was going to be a proverbial bump in the road. Needless to say, March was a very big bump as far as bumps go. Out of the 14 games the Devils had in March, the Devils compiled a below-average record of 6-6-2; including a 5 game winless streak at home. The sizable lead the Devils built up in the Atlantic Division was whittled away and are now in a tight race with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the division lead and the all-important #2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
While there have been many games where the offense, the defense, or the entire team played very poorly, the Devils went through other struggles. Throughout the month, injuries afflicted Brian Gionta, Patrik Elias, John Madden, Colin White, Scott Gomez, Erik Rasmussen at one point or another and they took their toll on the team. In some games, the Devils played with a shortened roster - not being able to call up players for reasons due to time and a lack of salary cap space. Once Brian Gionta was placed on long term injured reserve, players were able to be called up from the Lowell Devils to fill in roster spots. David Clarkson was certainly impressive, looking and playing like a young Randy McKay in the games he's played in; acclimating himself well with the team and even fitting in when played on the top lines. Rod Pelley was put in Madden's spot and Pelley was all right; he didn't light the world on fire, but he was acceptable. Clarkson, at least, may have played himself in for a spot on the roster for next season, if not the playoffs.
However, the month ended on a high note. Players began getting healthy and while Scott Gomez left the March 30th game against Phildelphia early with a bruised thigh, the formerly injured players returned. Gionta will return on April 1, but Elias, Madden, Rasmussen, and White have returned to the line up and back into getting regular minutes. More importantly, they won 3 of their last 4 games: a 4-3 comeback win decided in the shootout against Florida on March 24
, a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders to snap the winless streak at the Continental Airlines Arena on March 27
, and last night's 3-1 win over Philadelphia to end the month.
There was other milestones to celebrate: the Devils secured a playoff berth in March, Martin Brodeur broke the franchise record for most wins in a season by a goaltender with 44 and has an outside chance of catching (and breaking) Bernie Parent's all-time record, and the Devils reached the 100 point plateau for the tenth time in the team's history. The most impressive wins, however, were the two away wins the Devils earned despite only playing with only 16 healthy skaters: the 4-3 win over Pittsburgh on March 8
and the 3-2 win over Buffalo on March 10.
Whenever you beat good teams permanently short two players, that's simply amazing.
Now, as far as the Devil of the Month, I'm going to go obvious here with Martin Brodeur here. Yes, Brodeur has not been excellent this month, but he's been consistently the best player on the roster. Nobody on the Devils did consistently well all month, with the Devils as a whole disappearing in the multiple poor games they had; not to mention injuries keeping top players off the ice to perform well. Brodeur has had some strong games this month even though he was left out to dry by the defense more often than not. He got up to 45 wins, breaking a franchise record for wins, and could conceivably catch Bernie Parent's 47 win record. Given that I certainly can't name any of the defenders and most of the skaters either were hurt or not particularly impressive this month, Brodeur is once again the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for March 2007.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Postgame: Devils 3 - Flyers 1
The New Jersey Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 to snap a 5 game losing streak at the Continental Airlines Arena. As always, NHL.com has the official score sheet
and the official super stats
of that game, linked respectively.
The three stars of this game was Mike Rupp, Travis Zajac, and Simon Gagne. While all three did well in the game, especially Rupp but I'll get to him in a minute. I must say that Martin Brodeur had a great game. He was vital in the first and second periods when it seemed that he was the only one to show up to play, deflecting pucks and making saves to prevent glorious scoring chances for the Flyers early on. To be fair, Brian Rafalski provided two crucial blocks in front of an open net after Brodeur moved out of the crease off a minor injury early on. It looked to be a strained leg, there's no worry, he played the rest of the game and played it well; just seemed to move it funny. All the same, while the Flyers didn't put a lot of shots on Brodeur in total, they clearly looked a lot better in the first two periods. Brodeur came up big en route to his 45th win this season. I just think he should have been named one of the stars; but those three are good enough.
I must reiterate this: The Devils were horrible in the first and second periods. OK, they were successful on their 3 penalty kills; but Brodeur factored big on that as well. More than halfway through the game, the Devils had a whopping 10 shots on Flyers goaltender Martin Biron. 10. Patrik Elias setting up a few - and I do mean a few - scoring chances the Devils had. Overall, for the first 38 minutes of the game, the Devils skated in slow motion, played way passive on defense, and did very poorly on offense. The crowd was booing at the Devils poor performance after PZL did little with a turnover deep in the Flyers' zone, as an example. And I did not blame them. I wanted to yell "MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!" at the TV, I wanted to convey to the Devils not named Brodeur to wake up, as the game actually meant something to NJ's playoff seeding. Sadly, I could not, for obvious reasons.
Fortunately, Mike Rupp of all people came through. Scott Gomez got injured during the first period and saw only 5:39 of ice time. The broadcasters on FSNY (Doc Emerick and Chico Resch) said it was a bruised thigh. With all the other Devils seemingly ready to return, I hope Gomez heals quickly. That said, it led to a first line of Mike Rupp and Patrik Elias with Sergei Brylin at center. Believe it or not, it actually worked. The Devils first goal started with another disappointment: a Patrik Elias slapshot goes nowhere near the net thanks to the stick breaking. But the puck goes into the corner, so Elias can skate back to the bench to get a stick. While that was happening, Rupp moves the puck along behind the net and it gets out to the point. Brad Lukowich gets the puck at the point while Rupp peals into the slot and fires a hard shot. Rupp deflects the shot in for the Devils first goal just as Elias gets his stick. Goal aside, Rupp was skating pretty hard with Elias (who also was hustling) and he played well filling in on the first line. It was amazing that the Devils scored first considering how putrid their entire performance was until that point. That goal led to more offense, however.
Mike York takes a hooking call late in the second, leading to a Devils power play. All right, the Devils scored one goal; but this is a power play and I'll be honest - I wasn't expecting much. Yet, the Devils actually did well on the power play and they did something even better: they scored. Elias along the boards won the fight for the puck, moved it up to Rafalski at the point, who fired a low shot at Biron. Parise tries to poke it in, fails, but it moves to Travis Zajac who puts it home and the Devils enter the third period with early two periods worth of bad performance and a two goal lead.
The Devils would really turn it on the third. The Devils put 10 shots on Biron in that period alone, looked good (but was not successful) on two power plays, and came close a number of times to extend that lead. The defense also stepped up and really shut the Flyers down, holding them to only 2 shots in that period (a total of 15 shots). John Madden did return to the line up and became more noticeable in this period on defense. David Clarkson was sent down to Lowell as a result (salary cap reasons as well, I believe); but I'm glad Madden returned and looked good (in the third mainly) with 20:11 of ice time. The defense did hang Martin Brodeur out to dry as Simon Gagne - the guy I was concerned about in my preview of the game - was wide open at the top of the slot. Gagne fired a laser up high to beat Brodeur and dash any hopes of a shutout. Fortunately, the Devils would close the Flyers down and ice the game with a backhand shot by Jay Pandolfo reaching the empty net.
Strong third period makes up for a crappy first two periods and the Devils retake the Atlantic Division lead with the win. The cliche states that good teams find ways to win games despite poor performances and unfortunate circumstances (losing Gomez to injury during the game is certainly unfortunate). Tonight's game is evidence supporting that cliche. Four games left for the Devils and Boston is next on Sunday, we should see Brian Gionta return for that home game. Hopefully Gomez will not be injured for too long and the Devils can close out this season with wins and a healthy team.
Labels: Devils Postgame
Game: Philadelphia @ Devils, 7 of 8
Tonight, the New Jersey Devils return home in what is actually their final game this month. They face the Flyers of Philadelphia.
GAMETIME: 7:30 PM, EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: WFAN, 660 AM
Devils Record Vs. Philadelphia: 5-0-1
The Devils tried, but lost it on defense and some shaky goaltending in the third period against Buffalo on Wednesday. However, the Devils get a good chance to end this month on a winning note against the Flyers. Yes, the Devils lost their last 5 road games; but with a now healthy Patrik Elias, David Clarkson acclimating himself on the top line, having something to play for, and the possible return of John Madden, the game is in New Jersey's favor.
"I feel ready to play. I feel no pain," Madden said. "I think if it was a different time of year, if we were in the playoffs, I would've probably made the choice to come back earlier. But if I came back and got hurt, I'd probably miss the first week of the playoffs. (Waiting) was the smart thing to do."
"We'll see. We'll make that decision (today)," Julien said. "He said he felt good after skating, but we'll see how he feels in the morning. We're not going to take chances with John Madden. If he plays, it's going to be because he's 100 percent."
To be fair, he's got a point. Madden may need to skate a little more to reduce the risk of re-injuring his groin. It's not as if he will be vital for the Devils to beat the Flyers. On the other hand, I'm a believer in listening to a player concerning their health - they know their own bodies better than I possibly could. If Madden says he's ready to return, then he's probably ready.
Now, when Brian Gionta is eligible to come off injured reserve, it's going to lead to an interesting set of problems. It will mean a couple players will have to go back to Lowell for salary cap purposes. Likely Rod Pelley at the least. Does David Clarkson stay up with the club? I personally feel he's earned a spot on the team definitely next season and I certainly wouldn't mind having him in the playoffs. But who goes down? Cam Janssen would be my choice, but it's up to Lou on this one.
Getting back to the game, the Flyers have one of the worst - the worst, in fact - records in the entire NHL. Yet, they raise their level of play whenever they play New Jersey. The result has been some very close and hard fought games. However, today's game is different. The Flyers are playing only for pride at this point. With Pittsburgh's win over Boston last night, the Devils are now two points behind the Penguins for the division lead. Home ice is valuable in the playoffs and the Devils should keep that in mind in upcoming games. The #2 seed and the Atlantic Division title could come down to the wire at the end of the season, short of either team completely flopping in April. This means the Devils should be playing with a purpose; let me elaborate.
This means the Devils should establish their dominance over Philadelphia. This means lots of shots on Martin Biron, this means a strong forecheck (like the Islander game from Tuesday, more of that please, coach Julien), this means aggressive power plays, and this means a consistent defense. I don't want to hear complaints about how difficult the Devils make it with their low-scoring ways and how certain Devils should be scoring more. It's been this way all season and the Devils won 45 games with these methods. It's not going to change. Even if the Devils had the ability to drop 5-6 goals on an opponent now and then, it doesn't excuse leaving opposing forwards wide open on odd-man rushes. It doesn't excuse positioning yourself in front of Martin Broduer, creating a screen; nor does it excuse leaving opposing forwards alone to screen Brodeur or go for a rebound. If the defense is solid for all 60 minutes, the Devils will have a good chance to win this one.
Speaking of the defense, the Devils need to be aware of when the Flyer's leading scorer, Simon Gagne (37G, 23A), is on the ice. If there's one player that the Devils need to keep an eye on it's him. He's productive, he's very skilled, and he can turn this game around in a hurry if left to do whatever he wants. Having seen him more than 5 times this season, the Devils probably know about him. That said, if anyone needs to be shadowed, it'll be Gagne.
This is a game the Devils should win. The two points would put them back into the Atlantic Division lead, end an otherwise disappointing month, and bring some momentum into the upcoming end of the season. The Flyers are not that good; but if past games are any indication, they will play the Devils close again in another fairly intense game. The Devils have won most of those games, however; and with a nearly healthy full lineup for New Jersey, they can beat the Flyers again. GO DEVILS.
ASIDE FROM THE GAME: If you read the paper or went to the official New Jersey Devils website
, you can buy playoff tickets. Score.
Also, I added a new Devils blog to the sidebar: The Beast of the East.
It's run by Tibbs, who has been a fan since 1999. He's got game previews, recaps, and links to all Devils-related news. Even in the Lowell Devils get covered. He even has a preview for tonight's game.
It's still new, but it looks lot of good work from Tibbs.
Labels: Devils Game
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Postgame: Buffalo 4 - Devils 3
For about 46 minutes, the New Jersey Devils kept pace with the Buffalo Sabres. When the Sabres made mistakes with the puck, the Devils could not convert on chances; and vice versa. Both teams stayed out of the penalty box for the most part, with each team only receiving one power play. Though you could argue that the refs, Dan Marouelli and Ian Walsh, were very generous at times. Going into the third, the score reflected the game: a 1-1 tie between two very good teams. Jochen Hecht fired a hard shot through a screen to put Buffalo up first; Scott Gomez put home a juicy rebound from Patrik Elias' shot on a 4-on-4 situation to tie it up in the second. The top forwards for both sides looked alright; though the Devils got more shots on net than Buffalo (and did so in total), the Sabres made Brodeur work pretty hard as well.
However, the third period was clearly a Sabres period despite the Devils out-shooting them 11-8. Daniel Paille was left all alone and Martin Brodeur was well out of position as he put home a rebound through Brodeur's legs to give Buffalo a lead. Then came the defensive breakdowns. The Devils, I believe Brian Rafalski bobbles the puck up at the point leading to a 3-on-2 rush by Buffalo. Rafalski gets back fast enough to try and stop the puck carrier, Daniel Briere, but Briere blows through him. Now here's the real mistake: Colin White then crosses over from the middle to go after Briere. Now, Briere is good; but it's Martin Brodeur in net. Let Brodeur focus on the shooter. Why White wasn't covering Jochen Hecht or Jason Pominville who were flying down the flank is beyond me. Simple defense states that the goaltender should face the shooter with the defenseman trying to cover/manage the other open men to force the puck carrier to shoot. Instead, Hecht and Pominville were all alone and despite Brodeur diving to take away the bottom half, Hecht gets a perfect pass to simply fire a high one-timer over Brodeur for the two goal lead. Broduer may have let up a soft one (the Paille goal), but he was hung out to dry on that one.
To give the Devils credit, they did challenge Ryan Miller with shots - who stopped a number of quick shots from the slot, robbing New Jersey of some goals - and they didn't give up despite the deficit. A few minutes after Hecht's second goal of the night, Paul Martin takes the puck in himself, manages to keep the puck despite three Sabres around him, and fires a backhand that just fooled Miller to pull New Jersey within one goal.
The Devils fighting back, maintaining some possession, and you start to think whether the Devils can mount another comeback. Hey, why not? They did it to Buffalo the last time they visited the HSBC Arena. They did it on Saturday to Florida. Then Brian Rafalski takes a shot from the point where Chris Drury somehow strikes gold by batting it down in mid air and right down the middle of the rink. It's another 3-on-2 odd-man rush for Buffalo. This time, Dainius Zubrus takes it up, drops it back and to the left to Ales Kotalik who hangs back and fires a wicked one-timer that just beats Martin Brodeur to the post and in for goal #4.
Again, to give the Devils credit, the Devils didn't roll over, they pulled Brodeur for an extra attacker and Zach Parise was rewarded in front of the net by putting it in late to pull within one. However, unlike basketball, you can't score in hockey from center ice with 2 seconds left. The Sabres broke through and made the most of some sloppy play on defense by NJ to get the win. Yes, the Devils defense did a good job by forcing Buffalo to only hit 23 shots on net - but the Sabres made the most of their mistakes and Brodeur did let up a soft one. While the loss is disappointing - most losses are - the Devils remain in first in the Atlantic Division by virtue of having more wins than Pittsburgh. While the Devils did somethings right - plenty of shots on net, not many penalties, hustled all game long - the defense will need to improve as defensive mistakes and miscues have been a cause (not the cause, but a cause) as to why the Devils have struggled recently.
Now, an apology. I thought this was the last game of the month. It is not. The Devils do have one more game remaining in March: they host Philadelphia on the 30th, this Friday. I apologize for any confusion. Hopefully, the Devils can sharpen their game at both ends and end the month on a high note.
Labels: Devils Postgame
Game: Devils @ Buffalo, 4 of 4
Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will end their road trip and play their last game this month in Buffalo against the Sabres.
Gametime: 7:00 PM EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils Record Vs. Sabres: 2-1-0
The New Jersey Devils put out a good effort last night to defeat the New York Islanders 3-2 and it is possible for them to end the month of March and this road trip on a high note. I must emphasize the word opportunity in the sense that it is possible that the Devils can win tonight just like it's possible that any team can beat any other team on any given night. The Devils are playing one of the top teams in the NHL, the leaders of the Northeast Division, and the likely owner Eastern Conference #1 seed. Of course, I am referring to the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres will have home ice to help them roll their 3 scoring lines (and 1 character line, for a lack of a better term) against the Devils. The Sabres are healthier now than the last time they hosted New Jersey and they haven't gotten any worse. No, they are still led at center by Daniel Breire (31 G, 58 A)and Chris Drury (35 G, 27 A). Lest you forget, Buffalo is loaded with scoring talent all over the place: most notably Thomas Vanek (37 G, 37 A), Jason Pominville (32 G, 30 A), and trade deadline pick up Dainius Zubrus (16 G, 39 A). They already have their playoff berth secured, yet they are showing no signs of taking it easy before the post season. They would love to get a win over the Devils, considering New Jersey won the last two games against Buffalo 3-2 and also considering that Buffalo played very poorly last Saturday in a 4-1 loss to Toronto. The Sabres plays like a well oiled machine that is good at stopping the puck thanks to Ryan Miller (35-16-6, 2.79 GAA, 91 Sv%, 1 SO); and even better at putting the puck in the other team's net thanks to...well, most of their forwards (Buffalo leads the NHL with a 3.63 goals scored per game average).
Needless to say, the Devils must be strong defensively. I must note that the last time the Devils visited Buffalo, they were playing with a short bench - missing Colin White and Brian Gionta due to injury. They amazingly won that game. However, while the Devils will have a full roster of players this time, they are without top checking center John Madden - who was instrumental when the Devils beat the Sabres in Buffalo earlier this season. The Sabres are a team that doesn't need to have opposing defenses make a lot of mistakes to produce goals. They'll shoot a lot and when the defense does make a mistake - and this is especially true for the pairing of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya - the Sabres will pounce on it like something fierce, be it missed coverage, a give away, a poor clearance, whatever.
On the offensive side of things, the Devils should be feeling good. Patrik Elias is back and Scott Gomez is seemingly back to playing a lot better than recently. David Clarkson looked good on that first line, giving them a physical edge, and I see no reason for that unit to change until Brian Gionta returns after April 1. The PZL unit was also good last night, I see no reason to believe they won't be good tonight. They scored 2 power play goals last night, so there's confidence on special teams to go with those two scoring lines. That said, the Devils must not let up on offense, they should not try to put 5 skaters behind the puck to protect the lead. Martin Brodeur is great, but reverting to defense only late in the game would just be asking for the Sabres to make a comeback. The Sabres have the weapons, they can do that without a problem.
However, the Devils shouldn't be firing at all cylinders for offense at all times. If the Sabres decide to make this game up-and-down hockey for the better part of 60 minutes, they're going to have the edge (along with the home crowd, the last line change, etc.). Again, they have no shortage of talented forwards who can skate well; whereas the Devils do not play that style for an entire game. Personally, I don't think the Devils have enough to keep up with the Sabres for that long; especially considering that they played the Islanders last night. I'm sure the Sabres will try very hard to accomplish this.
One way I think that can be avoided to some degree, the Devils should try to score first and set the pace a little slower - looking to hurt the Sabres defense the same way they did last night against the Islander blueliners with the transition game. Again, John Madden will be missed here, as he's very good at taking turnovers and turning them to offensive chances (as far as shot accuracy, however, well, that's another story).
In any case, the Devils have a shot to end a relatively poor month on a high note and to continue to secure first place in the division. If the Devils put out a good, strong team effort, I think it's possible. Don't expect the Sabres to roll over and just let things happen, however - they are far too good for that. All the same, GO DEVILS!
Labels: Devils Game
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Postgame: Devils 3 - Islanders 2
Now that was a good game by the Devils. They dominated the first period, they scored first, they scored twice on the power play, they held on to their leads, and deserved their win tonight. The win was important for the Devils to retain the Atlantic Division lead. The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 4-3, so they are in a tie in points
; but the Devils have one more win so they have the division lead (note: link goes to recap at NHL.com). The 2 points earned by New Jersey officially secures a playoff berth for the Devils, which also good. Lastly, the win set a new franchise record for most wins in a season by a goaltender: 44 by Martin Brodeur.
With Rick DiPietro out with an injury - not necessarily post-concussion syndrome according to the Islanders, Mike Dunham took control in the net against the Devils. The Devils for whatever reason struggle against the backup goaltenders in general, so Dunham looked really good some of the time. I say some, because Dunham gave up rebounds as juicy as a steak and looked shaky in nets at times.
Regardless, the Devils drilled through the sloppy Islanders defense to put 36 shots on net. beating the Islanders defense with their transition game as well as maintaining offensive pressure. Even after the Islanders cut the lead to one (and when the crowd, somehow, got back into the game in making noise), the Devils didn't recant nor revert to dumping and chasing hockey. They kept up a consistent forecheck for much of the game, which helped the Devils more than it hurt them. The return of Patrik Elias had him team up with Scott Gomez and David Clarkson on the first line and Elias - and the line as a whole - looked real good. Elias got an assist on the Devils' second goal, which was Scott Gomez' pass to David Clarkson being deflected into the net by a sliding Chris Campoli. The line also made up the first power play unit, where David Clarkson continues to impress me by putting home a rebound for the game's second power play goal. With the eventual game winner, two shots on net, 16:29 of ice time, and five hits; I hope Clarkson remains with the Devils after they get healthy. He's earning his spot.
That leads me to the power play. Two words: Bra-vo. Three power play opportunities and two power play goals. Excellent work. Sure, both power play goals occurred by Zach Parise and Clarkson jamming a puck home (Parise's was on a second effort after a sweet Travis Zajac pass went across the crease); but goals are goals, so who cares how they were scored. Especially on the power play, where the Devils have not done well at all recently.
I'm very pleased with how well the Devils played. The defense held the Islanders to 25 shots on net; Brian Rafalski and Colin White were both steady and solid in their own end. Ryan Smyth was not as much as a threat as, say, Randy Robitaille. OK, I'll be fair to Robitaille, who did have a good game in setting up both Islanders goals. Considering the number of possible goal scorers on the team, I'd say that the Devils did a good job in limiting much of their chances in the game.
The defense did commit two gaffes of note, however. A stupid hooking call (hooking calls by their nature are stupid and show a lack of discipline) on Scott Gomez led to the power play where Alexei Yashin fired a rocket from above the circle. Why the penalty killers not challenge Yashin that far up is a bit beyond me. Brodeur maybe should have had that one, now that I think about it. The other gaffe, as you can guess, led to the Islanders second goal. Aaron Asham comes around from behind the net, gives it to Jason Blake, who easily puts it in. As you can probably guess, Blake was not covered even though he was up close at the net. Brodeur had no chance. Why Johnny Oduya or Paul Martin or either of the forwards (the first line) didn't pick him up is beyond me. Those mistakes in positioning lead to goals - Clarkson scored his goal without an Islander touching him. Hopefully, the Devils defensemen improve on that.
That all being said, the defense did do well overall and Martin Brodeur was strong in net as usual. The Devils played well as a whole, they got the first goal, they got to dictate the pace of the game early, and they held on for the win as a result. If they play like this against Buffalo tomorrow, dare I suggest that they'll have a shot at winning at the HSBC Center tomorrow? It's certainly possible.
Labels: Devils Postgame
Game: Devils @ Islanders, 7 of 8
The New Jersey Devils will conclude their road trip with back-to-back road games. Tonight is the first half of that back-to-back set, where the Devils visit Nassau Coliseum for the last time this season.GAMETIME
: 7:30 PM, EST
National TV: Versus (HD
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils Record Vs. Islanders: 5-1-0NHL.com Preview
Two things have gone New Jersey's way recently that are of note going into tonight's game. The first and most important is that the Devils snapped their losing streak. They came back from a 2-0 deficit to ultimately defeat the Florida Panthers in a shootout.
The game re-established New Jersey's (small) lead in the Atlantic Division and gives the team some desperately needed momentum going into these two upcoming road games. Granted, Pittsburgh's win against Boston on Sunday puts them back into a tie with New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead, but the Devils have a game in hand (to be used to face Buffalo tomorrow).
However, in that same notebook section, Chere notes that while Jamie Langenbrunner
(ill) and Erik Rasmussen (shoulder) made the trip to Long Island, they are questionable for tonight. Tom Lycan's recent post at Devils Due has an apt headline: Devs looking to get healthy.
They could use some healthy players for tonight. Don't let the Devils' incredibly successful record fool you. The Islanders have played the Devils tough all season long, those 3 (nearly 4) shutouts were hard earned as were every one of those 5 wins. A win at Long Island would be huge for the Devils to retake the Atlantic Division lead, and it would be a huge boost in momentum before going into Buffalo in what will likely be an incredibly tough game against the Buffalo Sabres, the top team in the Eastern Conference and the NHL.
Worse yet for the Devils is that the Islanders have played fairly well recently. They are 2-0-2 in their last 4 games, Rick DiPietro has been great against the Devils despite the losing record (2.18 GAA), and trade-deadline acquisition Ryan Smyth has been excellent in Islander orange. Before the trade, Smyth had 31 goals and 53 points - he now has 35 goals and 66 points. From what I understand he's acclimated himself very well on the Islanders and that's no good for whoever plays them.
However, the Devils can't just focus on him. The Islanders have a multitude of offensive producers with 6 20+ goal scorers on their current roster: Smyth, Jason Blake (37 G), Mike Sillinger (25 G), Miroslav Satan (25 G), Viktor Kozlov (22 G), Trent Hunter (20 G). Needless to say, this will be a game where the Devils would miss John Madden greatly, I think. In any case, he's still hurt and the New Jersey Devils defense needs to be on point anyway. This means fewer giveaways from Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya; this means solid penalty kills (if not good discipline to avoid handing the Islanders man advantages); and this means proper coverage around the net by Brad Lukowich (among others), in particular. The Devils should keep an eye on Smyth in particular, he has 4 goals and 3 assists lifetime against the Devils in 9 games.
"You have to be consistent and you don't do it by yourself," he [Parent] said. "You need a good team. But I think Marty is the best goalie in the game."
There is one additional point I need to make about the Devils for them to have success tonight. Score first. The Islanders are in the middle of a fierce fight for the playoffs. Combine that with the fact that most of the games this season have been hard fought, close games and that makes the first goal scored in the game vital. It could even be the only goal scored in the game, considering how well Brodeur has played all year and how well DiPietro has done against New Jersey. The Devils were lucky in a way to comeback from a 2 goal deficit against Florida, you can be sure that Ted Nolan's Islanders will not give up leads so easily (not that the Panthers made it all that easy either). I repeat: Devils, please score first. For your own sake.
The game will be on national TV, so switch it to Versus (and in HD
if you can, trust me, it's worth it), and enjoy it. GO DEVILS.
The Devils could see Mike Dunham
or the recently called up Wade Dubielewicz
in net tonight. Dunham
has played poorly for the Islanders this season; but then again the Devils were shutout by the last backup goaltender they faced (Jocelyn Thibault
). The game is far from a gimme
; so the Devils still need to come out strong against the Islanders and score first in my mind.
Labels: Devils Game
Monday, March 26, 2007
Injuries, College, Tarkir, and Lowell
"Obviously the goal is to get home ice, but you can't think like that," left winger Jay Pandolfo said. "It's always disappointing when you don't finish as high as you can, but I wouldn't feel like we've thrown (the whole season) away if we didn't win the division."
Coach Claude Julien said he is confident his team can succeed in the playoffs no matter where it finishes in the standings.
"We're having a good season. I certainly wouldn't let (finishing fifth) change our hockey club," Julien said. "Once everybody is back healthy, we know how good we can be."
It's good that the Devils are confident that they can do well in the playoffs regardless of where they are in the standings. However, having home ice against the seventh seeded team (who the Atlantic Division winners will likely face) would be a far better fit than going in without home ice against the fourth seeded Ottawa Senators.
The NCAA Men's Ice Hockey tournament has been underway and the Frozen Four have already been decided: North Dakota, Boston College, Maine, and Michigan State.
No Devils prospects in the Frozen Four this year. Jeff Frazee and Minnesota kept it close against North Dakota, but a wraparound in overtime beat Frazee and knocked the Golden Gophers out of the tournament. Disappointing for the #1 seeded Minnesota squad, but from what I understand Frazee played well - the team as a whole just suffered from fatigue. Better luck next year.
How is Lowell doing? Well, they lost their last game, a 4-0 defeat to the Manchester Monarchs.
The minor Devils moved down to 5th in the Atlantic Division; but the playoff race in the Eastern Conference is very close. They have the eighth best record in the Eastern Conference, with a 34-25-5-6 record (79 points). Hopefully they finish the season strong, move up in the conference, and secure a playoff berth. In the last few years, when the New Jersey Devils were affiliated with the Albany River Rats, the Rats were horrible in the AHL and didn't make the playoffs. It seems things have changed in Lowell so far and making the playoffs would be great for the Lowell franchise.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Postgame: Devils 4 - Florida 3, SO
The New Jersey Devils came from behind to tie the Florida Panthers and win in the ensuing shootout. As always, NHL.com has the official scoresheet
and official super stats
of that game, linked respectively.
The Devils started off this game well, putting a ton of shots on Florida goaltender Ed Belfour, who made his 26th consecutive start for Florida. Then a blown pass in the middle of the neutral zone led to Florida take the puck, caught the Devils completely off guard, and Mike Van Ryn fired a shot that was deflected high by Olli Jokinen which fooled Martin Brodeur for the first goal of the game. Needless to say, the first period was not a really good one for the Devils. Even with two power plays and a couple of decent shots on net, the Devils did exactly what I would hope did not happen. They allowed the first goal, they allowed Florida to decide how the game would go early, the crowd got into it (what's all this then about hockey not being for warm-weather locations??), and the Devils had to battle from behind.
In the second period, Florida really took control of the game and doubled their lead when Stephen Weiss pounded a shot home. As if going down 2-0 to Florida wasn't bad, how the goal came about was. First, Brodeur robbed Weiss before the puck was cleared up the zone. Then Johnny Oduya gave away the puck right back to Stephen Weiss who had acres of space and had the proper finish. Not to point fingers, but it was the second game in a row where Oduya would give the puck away and it would lead to a goal. Hopefully Oduya breaks that streak as soon as possible. That said, a beautiful thing occurred later that period.
The Devils scored on the power play! Yes, for a second game in a row, the Devils actually produced something with a man advantage. This time, it was David Clarkson who took a strong Brian Rafalski shot and tipped it in to cut the lead in half. Before you ask, yes a Devils power play goal is a beautiful thing if only for it's relative rarity. Amazingly, the second goal woke the Devils up and kept pressing for an equalizer later that period - which, amazingly, they actually got. It came from Jim Dowd of all people.
During the game, Jamie Langenbrunner got sick early in the second period and did not return. The broadcast said the flu, which I think is code for needing to be near a toilet moreso than the rink. Hopefully Langenbrunner feels better. In any case, it meant Jim Dowd was moved up to play with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. The lines were mixed up for this game, with Jay Pandolfo seeing ice time with Scott Gomez and David Clarkson at some point. This mixing up of the lines worked when Jim Dowd stashed the rebound from a Zach Parise shot home for the equalizer. The Devils were feeling good ending the second and frankly, so was I.
Which made Florida opening the third controlling it early and getting the lead back so frustrating. Martin Brodeur was in the right position to stop a hard shot from Chris Gratton from the right end boards (right relative to where Brodeur's net was facing). Unfortunately, the resulting rebound was huge, juicy, and went right to Ville Peltonen, who was uncovered on the other end of the rink. Brodeur stretched but couldn't stretch enough to stop the resulting goal. While the defense letting Peltonen go in uncovered and Brodeur giving up that rebound was bad, at least the Devils didn't give up.
The Devils would tie it up with a second goal from Jim Dowd of all people. Yes, Jim Dowd who never had a 2-goal game in his entire career, got two crucial goals tonight. Brian Rafalski saw Dowd uncovered in the neutral zone ahead of everyone, pointed to him, and fired a picture perfect long pass. Dowd was all alone with Belfour, one move, two moves, and Dowd does what so many other Devils have failed to do this season - score on a breakaway. Tie game and the Devils contain Florida just enough (Brodeur made some strong saves late in the third while unfortunately not breaking Belfour a fourth time) to force overtime.
In overtime, the Devils were more threatening on offense, but again the Devils couldn't solve Belfour so the game went to a shootout. Ville Peltonen scored on Brodeur for Florida, but Zach Parise and Travis Zajac beat Belfour. Brodeur stopped Jokinen easily to secure the win, end the losing streak, and retain a 2 point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Atlantic Division. It was not a pretty win and the Devils really need to end their streak of giving up the first goal in the game. The Devils had enough in them and thanks to an excellent performance by Jim Dowd to complete the comeback, but one win out of the last 4 games where the Devils went down early is not something one would not want to continue. Regardless, the comeback win should give the Devils enough of a boost to really take it to the Islanders next week - regardless of whether Patrik Elias and Erik Rasmussen will return.
Labels: Devils Postgame
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Game: Devils @ Florida, 4 of 4
The New Jersey Devils finish their time in Florida by visiting the Florida Panthers tonight.
GAMETIME: 7:30 PM, EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils Record Vs. Panthers: 2-1-0NHL.com Preview
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said Elias and Rasmussen "should be ready" for Tuesday's game at Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders. While Madden has yet to return to the ice, Elias and Gionta have been skating. Gionta is not eligible to come off long-term injured reserve until April 1, though.
"Patrik is feeling much better," Lamoriello said. "He's skating hard. They're both skating hard, but it's skating hard and what happens the day after, two days after. ... We want to get them back playing 100 percent."
I only hope Elias is 100% healthy when he returns. I don't want a repeat of what happened to Scott Gomez earlier this season to Elias, especially this late in the season.
Now, as far as tonight is concerned, let's look at where the Florida Panthers are. They have played well recently, only losing 4 in their last 12 games. However, they sit in twelfth place in the Eastern Conference with 75 points. That's 7 points behind the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes and the Panthers would have to leapfrog 3 teams ahead of them with the closest team (Toronto) being 5 points ahead of Florida. Short of a miracle, they are on the outside looking in at this point. Their last game was a disaster for goaltender Ed Belfour, letting in four goals to the Ottawa Senators on 9 shots. The Panthers lost 4-2. Nonetheless, Belfour will likely start against Martin Brodeur.
If there is one Panther the Devils need to keep a close eye on, it's Olli Jokinen. He has 4 goals and 5 assists in his last 3 games, including a 2 goal and 4 assist performance against the New York Islanders in a 8-5 victory last week. Jokinen leads the Panthers in scoring with 35 goals and 47 assists and he will likely be the go-to guy for the Panthers tonight. The Devils should also be wary of Florida's centers in general as their top 4 scorers are listed as centers. Behind Jokinen there is the power forward Nathan Horton (28 G, 37 A), Josef Stumpel (20 G, 32 A), and Stephen Weiss (18 G, 26 A). Granted, Florida head coach Jacques Martin uses those guys on the wing; they aren't running four lines of scoring like, say, Buffalo. While they aren't Tampa Bay, stopping Jokinen at the least would go a long way in New Jersey's efforts to defeating Florida tonight.
Third, it is imperative that the Devils get a win tonight. They have lost their last 3 and while the 7-2 loss to Carolina last week was clearly the only horrible game of the three; now is the time to assert New Jersey's quality. Yes, despite being without Elias, Madden, and Gionta, the Devils can and should win this game. The PZL unit which has done fairly well this season needs to really make something of themselves. Despite having 6 rookies in the lineup, the Devils have held their own before falling to Toronto and Tampa Bay. They are facing the only team on this road trip that will likely not make the playoffs. The next two games are back-to-back games another team looking to make the playoffs (and local rivals Islanders) followed by the Buffalo Sabres who lead the conference.
The time for giving up the first goal early and not showing enough fire in the first period should be over with. The amount of "easy" shots on net for the goaltender to stop should be reduced, especially considering it's Ed Belfour in net. It is imperative that the Devils should establish the tone of the game early and this can not be done on the road if the other team is scoring first. The Devils aren't built to blow teams out, so expecting that would be ludicrous. However, for "Devils Hockey" to work and earn a win tonight, scoring first is vital. Playing from behind amidst injuries to top players has proven to be a receipe for a loss in the last three games. It will be come four if this does not change. Remember this. Despite the Panthers being unlikely to not make the post season, they are mathematically still able to make it. They're at home and the team as well as the fans know this. The Devils need to score first to avoid momentum giving Florida the edge they need to hand another loss to the Devils.
Should the Devils not win, there will be a serious cause for concern for the remaining games in the series. The Devils going into the Nassau Coliseum and HSBC Arena under-performing will make those already tough games nearly too difficult to win there, in my opinion.
That being said, I will remain hopeful and optimistic because A) I am a Devils fan and B) I can't control what will happen on the ice or how the Devils will perform. With respect to the latter point, I feel it is silly to be overly pessimistic and/or hope for the worst; if I have no control over these matters, there is no harm for wishing for the best. GO DEVILS. WIN.
Labels: Devils Game
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Postgame: Lightning 3 - Devils 1
The game featured a lot of work done by the Devils, but they didn't get the bounces they needed to win this one. Tampa Bay also worked hard, but they got their rewards; they did play well tonight. The first Lightning goal was Brad Richards deflecting a pass off Jason Ward, which beat Brodeur. An unfortunate case, since deflection-plays (it seemed to be a set-up play, with Ward going right to the net closer to the side where Richards was) are hard to get right. I will say this, Brodeur had an amazing game. There were stretches where the Lightning would get multiple shots and scoring opportunities on a shift and Brodeur came big. Colin White also came up big, blocking and clearing the puck not once and twice. Poor Vincent Lecavalier, he was absolutely robbed of goal number 50 by defensive plays and Brodeur.
Martin St. Louis, on the other hand, came through for Tampa Bay. Johnny Oduya had a good game except he made one crucial mistake: he coughed up the puck in his own end to a forechecking St. Louis. St. Louis proceeded to move that puck, move in, and just beat Brodeur far side to break the then-tie. Oduya knows his mistake, breaking his stick in two afterwards. You know better, Oduya. St. Louis would ice the game with an impressive shot. I know you may not be happy about the game and don't want to read any praise for a Lightning player, but this was one hell of a shot. Lecavalier is behind the net and Brian Rafalski stays to the right of him looking to stop any passes. St. Louis strays from the circle enough to have Lecavalier pass the puck beyond Rafalski's reach. St. Louis steps up and hits the far post corner with a laser, and it bounces in. Maybe Rafalski was screening Brodeur, but St. Louis had a very tiny hole in that corner from where he was standing from an unfavorable angle. St. Louis shot it perfectly. I can't be too upset about that goal. Only the eventual game winner is really worth criticism.
As far as the Devils offense goes, despite only scoring once there are some positives. First, is their shot selection. They outshot Tampa Bay 35-32 and only had 9 missed shots, which a big improvement over the Toronto game earlier this week. Second, the Devils scored a power play goal.
No, really, they did!
The best part about this goal was that instead of keeping the shots coming from the point and having them blocked or deflected wide (like their first power play) was that the Devils moved the puck around down low. By moving the puck up and down, the Devils were able to have enough defenders move around to A) have move Devils into the slot and B) actually give the point men more of a clear shot. Brian Rafalski's slap shot went through, the puck got loose, Travis Zajac slid it to Zach Parise who potted the goal and ended a scoreless power play streak that has gone too long.
However, there is still room for improvement. Discipline is one, the Devils took four penalties - all of them tripping calls. Only one of them was defensible, Lukowich's first tripping call was done to prevent a Tampa Bay player for pouncing on a loose puck for a potential goal. Still, giving a team with the likes of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Dan Boyle, and Richards four power plays is not good at all. Good on Martin Brodeur for making many saves on those penalty kills, and good work was done by the penalty killers when they did clear it. However, the Devils just can't do that in a game.
The second thing would their early offensive effort. The Devils did turn it on after the first Lightning goal and had some of their best chances in the game while the game was tied, but again the other team scored first and gained momentum early. On the road, it's imperative to set the tone early and making the opposition's defenders and goaltender sweat while they try to thwart you can establish the tone that's favorable for you. New Jersey didn't do that and while they did out shoot the Lightning and didn't roll over when scored against first, the Lightning
clearly controlled the pace of the game.
The third is production. There's not much I can say about this. The Devils did a good job getting shots on net, now they just need to make more of those shots more threatening. I'm not saying they should be pass-first and wait only for open shots; I'm just suggesting aiming to the sides a bit more than the goaltender's chest. Easier said than done, I know. Still, I don't know what else to suggest there. If I did, I'm sure every coach on every team in the world would be asking me for the secret to getting a team to score goals regularly. But I don't. Sorry.
In any case, while the Devils did lose, it wasn't due to a lack of effort on offense or in general. Marc Denis was in net and he played very well tonight. Clearly, the offense is missing Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta - those complaining about their "poor" seasons, well, I'd say they're looking pretty valuable now - and it's missing John Madden forcing turnovers and turning them into odd-man rushes. I'm sorry if it doesn't sound like I'm sufficiently disappointed or upset with the Devils. Yes, it's not good that they lost tonight; yes it's not good that they lost three straight for the first time since mid-Decemeber 2006; and yes it has been a bit frustrating to watch. But the Devils are still the Atlantic Division leaders (the Islanders defeated Pittsburgh tonight
, so the Penguins remain 2 points behind - link goes to NHL.com's score sheet), they still have the 6th best record in the NHL, and I'm sorry I can't act that the sky is falling for a team that high up in the standings.
That said, I should hope that the Devils end this streak against Florida on Saturday. If the Devils go into their back-to-back session on the road next week with four losses, then it would be a cause for serious concern.
Labels: Devils Postgame
The Rock Update
Game preview for tonight's game is below, but I feel this is worthy of it's own post. Not like these are costing me anything.
A Topping Off ceremony is a tradition among the construction community which marks the moment when the highest structural point in a building’s construction has been attained. To that end, a 40-foot, 2,500-pound steel beam was hoisted 120 feet into the air and bolted into place to serve as support for the two end roof trusses.
Game: Devils @ Tampa Bay, 4 of 4
The New Jersey Devils continue their road trip through Florida, as they play the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight.GAMETIME
: 7:30 PM, EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY 2
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils' Record Vs. Lightning: 1-1-1NHL.com Preview
The New Jersey Devils have been struggling as of late. What's more is that Erik Rasmussen seems to be day-to-day and it's possible he may not even play tonight. Rich Chere's article in today's Star Ledger featured Lou discussing the recent injury woes.
It's big of Lou to be with Rasmussen, taking him back to New Jersey for re-evaluation. The good news is that the Devils do have cap space to make another call up from the Lowell Devils should they need a forward. At least New Jersey will have 12 forwards tonight. The Devils didn't practice, which I suppose makes sense, as to avoid further fatigue and injury.
Now, the Devils lost their last 2 games in regulation the first time since December
; but David Clarkson
and Martin Brodeur
are (somewhat) upbeat, Chere not so much:
The depleted Devils did not practice yesterday. Their two straight losses mark the first back-to-back defeats in regulation time since a three-game skid Dec. 12-16.
"We're missing those guys a lot," Clarkson said, "but we have a good enough team that we should be all right."
Of their remaining nine games, five are against clubs battling to make the playoffs or improve their position. The Devils face the Lightning, Sabres, Senators and Islanders twice. They also have games against the Panthers, Bruins and two with the Flyers.
"We've turned the corner now. Nine games to the playoffs," goalie Martin Brodeur said.
They aren't sure what lurks behind that corner.
Well, the NHL.com Preview is very helpful in that regard. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the same boat as the Devils with respect to recent performances - they haven't played well. They started March leading the Southeast Division. A 4-5-0 run later and they are holding on to the sixth playoff spot with the Rangers (1 point behind) and Carolina (2 points behind) biting at their heels. Before their recent 4-3 win against Boston, the Lightning got demolished by the Washington Capitals to the tune of 7-1. Their win against the Bruins stopped a three game losing streak, but they are from out of the woods just yet due to their situation in the standings.
Now, the Devils gave a good effort against Toronto, but the offense really could have done more. The Devils will need to exploit the Tampa Bay defense at all opportunities and this requires more good work from all the players. Yes, even Jay Pandolfo, Rod Pelley, and Erik Rasmussen (or his replacement) need to put shots on net against the likely starter for Tampa Bay, Johan Holmqvist. The team didn't do that enough against Toronto and I think that hurt them. It's never good when the number of missed shots is almost as much as shots on net.
The power play needs to be better. I understand the Devils have gotten burnt on the wrong end on the man advantage, surrendering 11 shorthanded goals. Perhaps this is why they have been so tentative and timid. If anything, it's been holding the offense back. I'm not expecting all of them to have at least 3 shots on net or a goal for each opportunity; but the Devils offense really needs to assert itself and make it seem that they are a threat. My suggestion how to improve both of these problems - a lackluster power play and under-performing shot count - is to keep things simple. I see way too many fancy cross ice passes or decisions on odd-man rushes to look for the pass. A much better idea would be to keep the passes short; don't take risks with shots; and have at least one non-puck carrying forward to drive the net. This way when a shot is taken, a Devil can be there to put home a rebound. A big rebound let up by Andrew Raycroft allowed Travis Zajac to score the only goal for New Jersey against Toronto; I don't see how it can be worse than current strategy of taking long shots and forcing shots through screens.
The defense and Martin Brodeur, thankfully, are healthy and have done well against Toronto on Tuesday. They'll need a big game tonight as they need to stifle the Lightning's two most dangerous players: Vincent Lecavalier (49 G, 48 A) and Martin St. Louis (39 G, 55 A). These two can not be left uncovered for too long and they can not be allowed to dictate the pace of the game. Stopping these two should be of the utmost importance. This isn't to say they are the only threats. Brad Richards (24 G, 42 A) is still a skilled play making center who can cause damage - especially on the power play with his 12 power play goals. Dan Boyle (16 G, 42 A) is been excellent on the point for Tampa Bay all season, the Devils will need to be cautions when the puck is moved to him - especially on the power play. Vaclav Prospal (12 G, 38 A) will likely suit up on either of the Lightning's top two lines, he could light things up if left unchecked as well. To summarize all this, the Lightning are very potent up front and New Jersey's defense will need to be on point. So does Martin Brodeur's game, but it's Brodeur and that's really just expected and will likely be on point regardless of opinion.
The Devils have another challenge tonight. Another team who is looking to secure their trip to the post season on their home ice. The Devils can take solace in the fact that Tampa Bay hasn't played all that great either this month and perhaps the Devils can take advantage. Scoring first would give New Jersey a big boost and allow them to set the tone of the game. Personally, I think this is vital since the Devils could use all the momentum they can get. Hopefully, they do that thing and go on to win the game. Even if they don't score first, at least from the Toronto game we know that they won't necessarily mail it in afterwards. GO DEVILS!
LATE UPDATE: A quick look at today's roster on the New Jersey Devils roster (at their official site) has a new greyed out name: Tuomas Pihlman.
Apparently, he has been called up to replace Erik Rasmussen for tonight's game. Rasmussen's been playing mainly on the fourth line this season, though he was moved up to the third line. It's my understanding that Pihlman is checking forward; so the move makes sense to me. I don't know if the Devils can call anyone else up anymore, but I suppose that bridge can be crossed if it comes.
Labels: Devils Game
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Postgame: Toronto 2 - Devils 1
The New Jersey Devils lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre. As always, NHL.com has the official score sheet
and the official super stats
from that game, linked respectively. Note: I only caught the last 5 minutes of the first period on radio and the rest of the game on TV; so I apologize that I did not see the entire game, but I feel I seen enough of it to comment on the game.
Needless to say, the end of the result of the game was not good. The Toronto Maple Leafs get two points the Devils could have used to expand their lead at the top of the Atlantic Division. The Devils could have used a win to bounce back from that terrible 7-2 loss to Carolina from Saturday. It would have been very beneficial to start a big road trip with a win. Alas it was not to be.
The good news is that as the game went on, the Devils took more control of the game. They didn't give up after the Kyle Wellwood power play goal late in the first. They didn't give up after Nik Antropov put home a rebound after a tough wraparound save by Martin Brodeur. In fact, the Devils put on more and more offensive pressure - not necessarily shots - and even got their only goal of the game right after the Antropov goal. Travis Zajac burying a big, juicy rebound off a Jamie Langenbrunner shot. Despite the Leafs defenders looking sloppy, the Devils could not get the equalizer. The fact that the Devils went into Toronto's house, against a team that needed points for their own playoff push, and stayed competitive for the entire game is a good improvement over the Carolina debacle from Saturday. I was pleased with the overall performance with the game to some degree, the Devils worked hard and were unfortunate to not put another one past Raycroft.
Well, maybe unfortunate is the wrong word to use. The Devils did have opportunities that they did not take advantage. They hit the post 3 times, which is unlucky. I can't criticize the Devils - Zach Parise, David Clarkson, and Langenbrunner to be precise - on that. Scott Gomez forechecking got a gift wrapped puck from Andrew Raycroft; who played it behind him right to the Devil. Gomez had a sharp angle, a diving Raycroft and two Leaf defenders; but clearly an open net and Gomez missed it. Horrible. The Devils also enjoyed 3 power plays and did very little with them, which is also not good. Lastly, while the Devils kept the puck in the Leafs zone quite a bit in the third, they only put 7 shots through on Raycroft (25 total in the game). When you're down by one and you need a point, the shots have to go through. To be fair, the Leafs defense did scramble well enough to deflect and block shots; but the Devils missed 24 shots in the game (led by Parise's 6 missed shots). I don't know whether that figure is a result of that or whether that is a total of all Devils' shots that went wide; it's still a sign that the Devils could have done better in that regard.
I must give respect to Martin Brodeur and the Devils defense for playing well. The defense blocked 18 shots and made a number of crucial plays late to prevent the Leafs from pounding Brodeur with shots. The only major criticism I have is that someone should have knocked Nik Antropov right on his bottom before putting home that loose puck. Antropov had a clear chance at it, it's not as if he's hard to miss.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming the defense for this game. The Devils were unfortunate to not tie it up in the third period to some degree, but the special teams and the offense really could have done more. More shots, a more threatening and fruitful power play, and Scott Gomez not missing a goal that maybe I could have scored were all signs of missed opportunities. Good on the Devils to not give up during the game and continue to play hard and with more urgency as the game went on even when down by two goals. However, there is much to be improved. Hopefully, the Devils can resolve that on their next stop on this road trip: Tampa Bay (who beat the Islanders 4-3 in overtime to improve their own chances of making the playoffs tonight).
I FORGOT, MORE INJURY WOES: Erik Rasmussen left the game before the third period with what Steve Cangelosi told Doc and Chico with an "upper body injury." Yes, that makes it four injured forwards. No idea what the injury actually is nor how long Rasmussen will be out for. I don't know whether this means the Devils will be forced to play with 11 forwards until someone is healthy once again. I hope Rasmussen is OK and his injury, whatever it is, heals properly and quickly.
Labels: Devils Postgame
Game: Devils @ Toronto, 4 of 4
The New Jersey Devils will once again take on another team fighting for their playoff lives tonight at the Air Canada Center.
GAMETIME: 7:30 PM, EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY 2
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils' Record Vs. Toronto: 2-0-1NHL.com Preview
Additional Previews: Trendon Lynch at On Fire: Calling for a Re-Do.
The most significant news Devils-wise is in the notes section of today's Chere article. Patrik Elias and John Madden are still injured with groin injuries and did not make the trip to Toronto. Worryingly, it is not known whether they'll join the Devils on any part of the trip. The NHL.com preview states that the two are day-to-day, but at this point in the season that can feel like an eternity. Brian Gionta is skating again, which is good, but because he's on long term injured reserve anyway, he can take his time. He won't be eligible to play (and come off the IR) until April 1 against Boston.
So the Devils will have Rod Pelley taking John Madden's role and David Clarkson where Jamie Langenbrunner normally is slotted, as Langenbrunner will be up on the first line again. The lines don't matter as much as the team's effort on the ice. Without Elias, Gionta, and Madden, the Devils will really need to out-work the Maple Leafs from minute 1 all the way through minute 60. I do not mean the Devils necessarily need to out-shoot or out-hit or out-skate in a dominating fashion. What I do mean is that the Devils need to win the little battles along the boards, take many simple shots on Andrew Raycroft (example: ones without opposing defensemen or backchecking forwards standing right in front of the shooter, ones that make Raycroft do more than get his chest in front of it, etc.), and get the Leafs' face as much as possible. Especially their leading scorer and captain, Mats Sundin (25 G, 38 A). I know he's a center but maybe it is worth sticking Jay Pandolfo on Sundin, shadowing him as much as possible. It's just an idea.
In any case, the Devils need to play with fire and give a real good effort to make this game competitive, much less have a chance to win it. While Darcy Tucker (22 G, 14 A, 70 PIM) once wanted Janssen's blood, in the NHL.com preview he is more concerned with winning the game.
(As an aside, that coming from Tucker of all people is refreshing; hockey games are all about competition; going for someone's head or running a player as "revenge" should have no place in the game.) Expect that to be the general sentiment in the locker room. The Maple Leafs are just outside of the playoffs and with 10 games remaining for them, they need all the wins they can get. They're at home, the crowd is going to be loud, New Jersey is coming off a really miserable loss, you can expect the Leafs to try and take advantage early. The Devils need to ward them off whilst working them down as the game goes on. Fortunately, the Devils have Martin Brodeur to do that; but this requires playing a suffocating defense and perhaps using the dreaded and reviled 1-2-2 trap (something New Jersey didn't do much of in their previous 3 games).
It should be an intense game if only for the emotion alone. The Devils need the win to protect their own position; the Leafs need the win to keep their playoff hopes alive; and I will miss it due to class. Bah. So if you don't see a recap of the game, there's your reason. Sorry. In any case, GO DEVILS!
Labels: Devils Game
Monday, March 19, 2007
The Road Ahead
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, now is as good as time as any to look at the road the Devils must go through to get to the playoffs. Currently, they are 43-21-8, sitting in first place of the Atlantic Division. By virtue of having a better record than the Southeast Division leaders, the Atlanta Thrashers, the Devils are second in the Eastern Conference. Making the playoffs is pretty much a lock at this point for New Jersey. However, securing home ice for much of the playoffs as possible is definitely something to strive for. Pay no attention to the last 5 home games. Yes, the Devils have done poorly at home recently; but with a 22-10-5 record, they are not easy to beat at the Continental Airlines Arena.
As an aside, the New York Rangers finally did something correct for a change - they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on a late third period goal by Jaromir Jagr earlier tonight.
Yes, I'm praising the Rangers - but not much. They're still a bad team in my eyes. All the same, it helps New Jersey since Pittsburgh is 2 points - that's one win or two overtime/shootout losses - behind the Devils. As long as the Devils maintain more wins than Pittsburgh, they'll hold the tiebreakers. For the Penguins to take the division, they need to shine whilst the Devils need to keep doing poorly. With injuries to Patrik Elias, John Madden, and Brian Gionta, it will not be easy.
That said, the Devils control their fate. Let's look at the next ten games, thanks to the schedule at NHL.com.
3/20: @ Toronto
3/22: @ Tampa Bay
3/24: @ Florida
3/27: @ NY Islanders
3/28: @ Buffalo
4/5: @ Philadelphia
4/8: NY Islanders
6 road games, 4 at home, and one back-to-back set right in the middle. The Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Islanders games should all be very tough games. All three teams are fighting to secure a playoff seed. The Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs are currently tied in ninth and tenth place with 78 points (as well as being tied with the Montreal Canadiens, who is in eleventh). Toronto is going to be extra emotional tomorrow as they remember what Cam Janssen indirectly do to Tomas Kaberle. Tampa Bay is still loaded with offense and while the Devils have done well holding Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier back, the Lightning will definitely be aggressive. Their coach, John Tortorella preaches "safe is death" for a reason. The Islanders have played the Devils tough and close all season long, with NJ winning a lot of those close games. They get to see New Jersey twice and expect more of the same closeness.
It's in these three opponents over 4 games where the Devils will miss Elias and Madden the most. Madden is needed to shutdown the opposing team's top lines with Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin (or Erik Rasmussen or...someone one else). That would be vital for any hopes of Devils' victories. Elias would be very useful in providing skill and speed along the left wing with Scott Gomez, where the two can (and should) put the opposing defenses to the sword on breakouts. Plus, Elias is the captain after all - leadership is necessary in situations like this.
Buffalo and Ottawa. Wow. The Devils have beaten both teams before but with Buffalo looking to secure the conference and Ottawa trying to jockey for position, they won't be easy opponents in any sense of the word. If the Devils don't win the division, they're going to get a first round series against a team led by Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Wade Redden. Not fun at all. Buffalo is speedy, they roll four lines, they pack a punch up front (scoring and their forechecking), and the Devils won't be able to match them as best as they can being on the road. If the Devils are still having injury woes, the odds of a Devils win get grimmer and grimmer.
As far as games the Devils should win, well, there are spoilers in this remaining schedule. Boston is really on the outside looking in at this point, but this is the same Bruins team who roundly defeated New Jersey 4-1 earlier this month. Florida has given the Devils their only regulation loss on the road since Christmas; though they're playing for pride at this point. Philadelphia is the worst team in the league, but always manages to get up and play hard against New Jersey; and the Devils face them twice. It is vital that the Devils assert their dominance over these teams. I fear that if the Devils blow these four games, it's going to take some luck (read: Pittsburgh faltering) in order to win the division.
All the same, the cliche says "all we need is one to get going" for a reason. Should the Devils pull off a win at Toronto, against what will likely be a packed house looking for a pound of New Jersey's flesh, against an angry cheap-shot artist Darcy Tucker, and against a team desperate for points (like Carolina, et al) it will be a huge boost to their momentum. Given the 7-2 loss to Carolina, the Devils absolutely need a win soon to get back on track and right the ship, so to speak. Remember, the road to the playoffs is never easy. Fortunately, we can be somewhat optimistic for the Devils have one thing going for them in tight playoff races:
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Postgame: Carolina 7 - Devils 2
First, an apology. Yes, I should have done this a bit sooner; but I wanted to wait to see how the rest of Saturday's games would play out as well as Buffalo's game against Atlanta. The Sabres picked up a point in an overtime loss to the Thrashers, Ottawa defeated Philadelphia yesterday, and Pittsburgh is currently up 3-2 with Ottawa at the end of the second period. Buffalo remains ahead of the Devils in the Eastern Conference by three points. The Penguins have a chance to really start breathing down New Jersey's neck in the Atlantic Division if they win, they are 4 points behind the Devils. Should the Devils not win the division, they will likely end up facing the Ottawa Senators - the team who has given the Devils their worst loss this season: an 8-1 loss at Ottawa back on October 21.
The link takes you to a recap of the game on NHL.com
As far as the Devils did, well, there's not a lot I can say while keeping my language clean. Things started off well, some hitting, some fire, not bad. But after the first Carolina goal - Chad LaRose shot beating Martin Brodeur short side - things fell apart. A perfect deflection by Josef Vasichek, two near-goals literally cleared off the line, a Ray Whitney blast, and another deflection by Rod Brind'Amour later and Brodeur was pulled. The offense? The Devils managed a mere 6 shots before halfway through the second period. Despite a somewhat more "inspired" third period, the Devils finished with 20 shots, Scott Clemmensen in net, way too many penalties - worst of all being Jamie Langenbrunner getting tossed for saying something about a referee's mother and a duck - and a 7-2 loss.
Everyone on the team - yes, even David Clarkson despite scoring his first goal - failed miserably. The Hurricanes played very well, obviously enough, and by the third period continued to pour misery on the Devils without much effort. The Devils were the opposite of good in almost all aspects of the game. You can not just blame the head coach Claude Julien or particular players. The Devils win as team, and they lose as a team. Clearly, the team lost and lost big.
There is a glimmer of a silver lining in this dark cloud that was the Devils' fifth straight loss at home. That is that they bounce back fairly well. After the miserable 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh last week, they dug deep without three of their top forwards - Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, and John Madden - and got a 3-2 win on the road against Carolina the very next night. Go back a month to a 5-4 loss against Pittsburgh that featured giving up 3 goals early to the Penguins. The Devils responded with a shutout in the next game against the Islanders.
Is it time to worry? Maybe a little, considering the standings. The next three games are crucial. All of those games on the road, in fact, the Devils next five games are on the road - their last home game this month is against the Flyers on March 30 (and they should win that one - I hope). The first being Toronto on Tuesday, and the Maple Leafs still remember that Cam Janssen (indirectly) caused Tomas Kaberle's injury. Then it's Tampa Bay and Florida also on the road. Amazingly, the Devils have lost a total of 3 road games - only one in regulation - since Christmas. Will that last without Elias, Gionta, and Madden? It won't be likely, but you can be sure the Devils will skate a hell of a lot harder on Tuesday; showing some fire and something resembling effort on the ice and all that.
At least, I hope so. If they don't, then
it's time to start seriously worrying.
Labels: Devils Postgame