Tuesday, April 01, 2008
March in Review; Devil of the Month
Again, the worst aspect of the month was the streak of five winless games. Despite putting up at least 3 on Toronto, Minnesota, Colorado, and Philadelphia; offense was at a premium - especially during the streak. In these five games, all against division rivals, the Devils only put up 5 goals and earned one point. Before, the Devils were at the top of the division and the conference. Now, it's clear the Pittsburgh will win the division given their 7 point lead. Short of the Penguins collapsing and the Devils winning all four remaining games, the Devils are on the outside. Home ice is always an advantage in the playoffs; now that's going to be a challenge in of itself without the division title.
So in a poor month from New Jersey, who was the best? Certainly it can't be any one forward. Patrik Elias was OK, if a bit underwhelming, with 2 goals and 5 assists. Zach Parise started off hot with 5 goals in the first four games, but followed that up with only one goal and 3 assists. Do I need to talk about the others? Well, Mike Rupp played very well for about three games in the middle of the month. There was that. No, I'm going in a far different direction. I'm talking about a player who ended up a combined +6 in a month where the Devils conceded a total of 35 goals in regulation and overtime. I'm talking about a player who has averaged approximately 20:13 of ice time per game. I'm talking about someone who leads their position on the team in goals. I'm talking about someone who leads the team in the plus-minus statistic. I'm talking about the defenseman with the lowest goals against per 60 minutes among Devils regulars with 1.43 (source: Behind the Net) this season. I'm talking about someone who has risen to form strong chemistry and play some solid defense with Paul Martin. I'm talking about someone who, back in October, that a lot of people wanted gone and I defended you (to a point). I'm glad I did, I'm glad you turned it around, and I'm still a little amazed that I'm about to type this. John Oduya, you are the ILWT Devil of the Month of March 2008. A consistent defenseman in a month with a shocking lack of consistency.
April is short, but crucial. The Devils sit fourth in the conference with 93 points. Tonight they go to the Island, they host Boston the next night at the Rock, and then Philadelphia and Our Hated Rivals await from April 4 through April 6. Three inter-divisional games, three games against teams on the playoff bubble, and four games that will not be easy. The Devils will almost assuredly make the playoffs, and then the rest of the month will consist of that. How they will do in this last week of the regular season will determine who they will face. It will ultimately determine how likely they will fare in the second season. They are all important and it's Brent Sutter's imperative to prepare his team to fight for every point.