The New York Rangers looked like they had something to play for on Saturday afternoon.
The Devils did not.
New Jersey ended its disappointing campaign with a flat, uninspired effort in a 4-0 loss to New York at Madison Square Garden.
Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan each recorded a goal and an assist, Rick Nash scored twice, and Brad Richards had two assists as New York finished its regular season 26-18-4.
The Rangers locked up at least the No. 7 seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs and can finish sixth if the Ottawa Senators lose their remaining two games– or if Ottawa finishes 1-1.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 20 shots he faced.
Johan Hedberg stopped 17 shots. The Devils finished their lockout-shortened 48-game campaign with 48 points– a perfectly-mediocre 19-19-10.
While the whole team looked disinterested, the Devils defense looked downright egregious.
Peter Harrold and Andy Greene were the Devils’ only two Even ‘D’ and both took penalties.
Adam Larsson and Marek Zidlicky were both minus-2 — Larsson could’ve gotten a secondary assist on Nash’s first goal. Meanwhile, Zidlicky was caught flatfooted on several occasions and made a weak pass that Stepan easily stole and dished to Callahan on his shorthanded goal late in the first.
Zidlicky will be an unrestricted-free agent at season’s end, and I’d be stunned if he returns. He was minus-10 and was essentially the posterchild for New Jersey’s defensive woes this year.
Ilya Kovalchuk wasn’t much better, finishing a minus-2 and only earning two shots. Kovalchuk was caught watching on Nash’s second goal, failing to backcheck or do anything more than stare as Nash beat Hedberg.
Hedberg’s left pad was Nash’s top foil.
The dynamic winger could’ve had at least four goals– even five– but Hedberg’s pad stymied five of Nash’s game-high seven shots.
Hedberg’s left pad was good in New Jersey’s win Thursday, and he performed admirably in place of Martin Brodeur.
Still, Brodeur was still not immune from MSG ridicule. The Garden’s fans peppered him with “We want Marty” and “Mar-ty” song chants.
Brodeur hadn’t sat an entire game on the bench at MSG in almost 20 years.
New Jersey’s penalty kill was about its only bright spot Saturday.
The Devils held the Rangers shotless in six man-advantages, including a pair of two-man advantages.
The Devils’ penalty kill was a major Achilles’ heel at points this year but closed the campaign killing their last seven, finishing 16th in the NHL in penalty killing.
Anton Volchenkov led the Devils on Saturday with three shots.
That pretty much tells the story, doesn’t it?
Links: Pregame thread | Twitter | NHL.com recap
If you didn’t watch the first 10 minutes of today’s game, you’d think it was one of the Devils’ best efforts all season. Despite that (very) sub-par start, the Devils once again managed to “turn it on” after Pete DeBoer’s timeout and just dominated the Panthers for the next 50 minutes. Some thoughts…
Wake-up call: The Pete DeBoer First Period Timeout should be sold in pharmacies across the country. It’s best wake-up call I think I’ve ever seen. Why the Devils continue to need it — especially in the throes of a desperate playoff chase — is beyond me, but it certainly is the magical elixir this roster covets. The Devils came out painfully slow and were lacking any sort of energy. The Panthers were skating circles around them, getting to every loose puck. Both of Florida’s goals were a result of out-efforting New Jersey, but that changed as soon as DeBoer called his infamous timeout. You could see him rotating his hand, signaling the Devils needed to pick up the energy. This wasn’t one of those “settle down” timeouts. This was the “well-time expletive” version and it worked. Boy did it work. It took a few minutes but before long New Jersey was all over Florida, like a train that takes time to build up speed and then all of sudden is barreling down the tracks at 80 miles per hour. I know I’ve spent some time cracking on the Devils for their slow starts this season and their reliance on the P.D.F.P.T. (we might need a better acronym), but at this point, a win is a win is a win.
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Pete DeBoer announced at Friday’s morning skate that neither Ilya Kovalchuk (shoulder) nor Bryce Salvador (wrist) will be in the lineup against the Senators tonight. Neither player participated in today’s skate.
This isn’t much of a surprise considering what DeBoer said about both players at Thursday’s practice. While I think Kovy has a solid shot to return to the lineup Monday night, it seems readily apparent that Salvador could be looking at a decent chunk of time in the press box. With Anton Volchenkov suspended, that means the Devils will have to roll with Adam Larsson (recovered from a foot injury) and Peter Harrold tonight against Ottawa and possibly for the next few games. That is, of course, assuming the Devils don’t recall anyone from AHL Albany. I like both Larsson and Harrold, the former moreso than the latter, but I don’t think there’s any debating right now that neither are playing like top-six defensemen. While the Senators’ offense can be managed, Monday’s opponent, the Maple Leafs, have some very dangerous offensive pieces that could give both Larsson and Harrold (and Tallinder) some pretty significant trouble. But at this point, looking ahead is foolhardy. The Devils need to make sure Larsson and Harrold play smart, sound, positional hockey and don’t get caught watching the puck in their own end.
The last time the Devils were in the midst of a lengthy losing streak, Pat Pickens and I got together and debated whether the Devils were in real trouble. Pat was a little more optimistic than me, although we both saw a chance for redemption. Then Ilya Kovalchuk got hurt and the Devils went off the rails. With eight games left, Pat and I faced a simple questions: Will the Devils make the playoffs? What follows is a quick answer to that question followed by a debate over why it happened, how to fix it and whether Pete DeBoer should be part of the solution or on the chopping block.
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The NHL announced Thursday that Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov will be suspended four games for an elbow to the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand roughly 15 minutes into the second period of Wednesday’s game. The full video from Brendan Shanahan is below:
The suspension means Volchenkov will half of the Devils’ remaining eight regular-season games.
It’s one game more than I thought he could get, but I’m not surprised the NHL went up to four after watching the video. Shanhan harped on a few things. One, Volchenkov extended his elbow to the point where it became “reckless elbow contact to the head” of Marchand. Two, Marchand tried to avoid the hit and turned his head, but it doesn’t change the fact that Volchenkov didn’t pursue the puck and turned what could’ve been a legal body check into an illegal elbow. Three, Volchenkov was in control of the play and in control of his body and clearly pursued the elbow to the head instead of playing the body. Shanahan also referenced Volchenkov’s prior suspension and Marchand’s injury (likely concussion) as factors, so at least the NHL admits a player’s injury status affects how they rule. When you watch the video, it’s hard to disagree with the four-game ban, which is often the case with Shanny’s home movies.
The key here for the Devils is being able to field six legit NHL-caliber defensemen over a CRUCIAL four-game stretch. The Devils will face two non-playoff teams (Flyers and Panthers) but that’s after playing the Senators on Friday and Maple Leafs on Monday. With Bryce Salvador banged up and currently owning a very bruised wrist, the Devils might be forced to go with Adam Larsson (which is fine) and Peter Harrold (which is probably not fine) against two good teams. It’s just another hurdle this team has to overcome when they’re already four points out of a playoff spot with two teams to jump to get to eighth place.
If there’s a phrase to sum up the Devils’ 2013 season, I think “banged up” might be the most relevant term. New Jersey’s injury problems have gotten to the point where players are missing games because of practice (WE TALKIN’ BOUT PRACTICE!) injuries. Not a game, not a game. PRAC-TICE.
The latest additions to the injury report ledger were Adam Larsson and Johan Hedberg, who both missed Wednesday night’s loss after being hurt in practice Tuesday. Larsson took a puck off his foot (from Anton Volchenkov, no less) and couldn’t even put his foot in a skate yesterday. Thankfully, he’s much better today.
Hedberg — wellllll, not so much.
With Volchenkov likely facing a suspension and Bryce Salvador (wrist) in doubt, the Devils need Larsson tomorrow night. Hedberg? His usefulness is minimized by the fact that Martin Brodeur is never going to take a night off again — at least not this year. We should get definitive word on both players at tomorrow’s morning skate but I’d expect Larsson to be in the lineup against the Senators.
The Devils announced after Thursday night’s loss that Bryce Salvador (wrist), Adam Larsson (hit by shot) and Johan Hedberg (back) would be re-evaluated Thursday. Larsson and Hedberg’s injuries occurred during practice Tuesday, while Salvador left Wednesday’s game in the second period after taking a Zdeno Chara shot to the hand/wrist area. Pete DeBoer was cagey on how serious the injury is, but listening to him and Martin Brodeur talk about their captain, things sound ominous.
I’ll be the first to tell you Salvador hasn’t been up to snuff this season, particularly in the “second half.” But you can’t deny what he means to the team on the ice and in the room. Regardless of how poorly he’s played at times, he’s still one of their better defensemen (which is saying something). He’s also a steadying presence for a team that can lose its head at the drop of the puck. If you want to know how much he matters, just listen to the way his teammates speak about him. By my count, Salvador is playing with at least some sort of knee/hip injury, an undisclosed upper-body injury (possibly shoulder/back) and now this wrist injury. Yes, he’s been slow at times and unable to move opponents out of the crease or slot (Hello, Jaromir Jagr), but he’s clearly playing at way less than 100 percent. With the injuries the Devils have already dealt with, a serious injury to their captain might be the final blow — especially with Larsson banged up and Anton Volchenkov likely facing a suspension for his elbow on Brad Marchand tonight.
Adam Larsson took a shot off his leg at practice Tuesday and won’t be in the lineup Wednesday night. He’ll be replaced by Henrik Tallinder, which is not the only change in Pete DeBoer’s lineup.
Once again Pete DeBoer is shuffling multiple bodies in and out of the lineup. It’s a trick he’s tried multiple times this season to varying effect. There’s been games where the “trick” has sparked the club or seen a player skate like his ass is on fire, but that’s usually just a one- or two-game fix. Mostly, it’s been a short-term, half-torn, blood-stained bandaid over a gaping wound. They Devils have been searching for a left wing on the first line all season. They’ve been trying to find six reliable defensemen (despite having eight on the roster) all season. They’ve looked for reliable third- and fourth-line wingers while trying to find anybody with a 20-goal scoring touch (Hello, Matt D’Agostini). None of it works. This is all very “deck chairs on the Titanic” rather than trying to find a combination that works. If there were one, DeBoer would’ve found it by now.
I understand health is an issue with Zubrus, Ponikarovsky and Kovalchuk missing large chunks of time this season. Yet only one of those players should actually be playing on the top line. The other two are basically duplicates, although I’d argue Zubrus is a better version of Ponikarovsky. Josefson, Tedenby and Butler never turned out the way the Devils hopes, while Clarkson and Zajac have taken offensive nosedives. When there’s no answers on the roster, it’s nearly impossible to find solutions — no matter how many times you shuffle the cards.
Who: New Jersey Devils at Buffalo Sabres
When: 7:30 p.m. ET; Pregame show at 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
Media: TV – NBC Sports Network (Channel listings); Radio - WFAN (660 AM or 101.9 FM)
Stats & Notes (via Devils PR)
- New Jersey is looking to end a season-high (tie, 0-5-1, February 23-March 5) six game losing streak (0-3-3) tonight.
- Each of the first two meetings between the Devils and Sabres this season have gone to the shootout, with the home team winning both times. New Jersey is 0-5 in the shootout on the road this year.
- The Devils will close-out their ninth of ten sets of back-to-back games tonight. New Jersey is now 2-5-2 in first games and 3-4-1 in second games when playing on consecutive dates.
- The Devils have out shot their opponent in 17 of the past 19 games.
- Adam Henrique has scored a goal in each game vs. Buffalo this season. He has 2g-5a-7pts in seven games vs. the Sabres in his career.
- Martin Brodeur (16 saves) took the loss last night and is 2-3-3 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .900 save-percentage since returning to the lineup on March 21 at Carolina.
Inactives: Tallinder, Barch, Harrold, D’Agostini, Ponikarovsky
“A Spark”: Four players who did not play Saturday will take the lineup on Sunday night. Peter DeBoer told the press corps earlier, “We need to change things up, we need a spark.”
Jacob Josefson’s been nursing an upper-body injury and hasn’t played since Feb. 24. He’s minus-10 in 16 games and has only registered one point. Tom Kostopoulos, who was shaken up Monday against the Isles, returns after missing the last two games. He’s netted one goal in 13 games in New Jersey.
Obviously, the Devils are looking for offense, and that is what precipitated the moves. But these moves seem a little desperate.
Miller Time: Ryan Miller’s been among the reasons why Buffalo has moved within six points of the eighth-playoff spot. The 32-year-old netminder has stopped 54 of his last 57 shots he’s faced in two Buffalo wins. The Sabres rank ninth in the East with 102 goals, but they’ve been without leading-scorer Thomas Vanek and just traded their fourth-leading scorer Jason Pominville to Minnesota. Miller will have to keep playing strong for Buffalo to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Score First: We said it last night, but New Jersey is 12-1-4 when it scores the first goal. There is no way to overstate how important the first goal is, especially for a team that has had trouble potting goals. If the Devils score first, they can simplify their game, relax and play less tense than they did last night at home. Perhaps the road will suit New Jersey nicely.