This is a series of posts on the Devils’ pending free agents (restricted and unrestricted). We’ll cover their strengths and weaknesses and end up with a final verdict on whether we think the Devils should re-sign the player. There will also be a poll at the end of each post so you guys can weigh in with your thoughts.
Position: Left Wing Age: 33 2013 statistics: 30 games with NJ/2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points, minus-2 rating, 8 PIMs Free-agent status: Unrestricted 2012-13 salary/cap hit: $1.8 million/$1.8 million (via Cap Geek) Team history: Acquired in 2013 trade with Winnipeg Jets for conditional 2013 draft pick. Played in 33 games with the Devils during 2011-12 season, amassing 18 points.
What he brings: Ponikarovsky was a great checking-line forward in the Devils’ 2012 run to the Stanley Cup Finals. He scored a few timely goals this season and brings the always valubale “jam” to the lineup. ‘Poni’ also is a good dressing room leader and can play on any line.
Who: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils When: 7:30 p.m. ET; Pregame show at 7 p.m. ET Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ Media:TV – MSG-Plus, NBC Sports Network (Channel listings); Radio – Bloomberg (1130 AM) Twitter:@Pat_Pickens
Stats & Notes (via Devils PR)
New Jersey will close out the home portion of its 2012-13 schedule tonight. The Devils are 18-8-3 in their previous 29 home finales. New Jersey is 6-0-1 in its last seven home-closers (last loss, April 4, 2004 vs. Boston, 3-1).
With their win Tuesday night vs. Montreal, the Devils posted consecutive home victories for the first time since winning three straight March 7-13.
Tuesday vs. Montreal, New Jersey improved to 14-1-4 when scoring first this season. The Devils are 4-17-6 on the year when allowing the first goal.
On Tuesday, New Jersey scored twice on the power play for the fourth time this season and the first time since March 21 at Carolina.
Johan Hedberg will make the start in goal tonight, his first since March 19 vs. the New York Rangers.
Patrik Elias scored his team-leading (tie, David Clarkson) 14th goal of the season Tuesday. It was his fifth on the power play which also ties him with Clarkson for team lead.
Also Tuesday, Jacob Josefson scored his first goal since March 29, 2012 vs. Tampa Bay.
Steve Sullivan recorded 1g-1a-2pts Tuesday for this first multiple-point game as a Devil since February 15, 1997 at Montreal.
Did the Devils play an A-plus game? No. I’d argue they played a couple better overall games during the 10-game winless streak. But the important thing is the streak is over and the Devils are back in the win column thanks to a few superlative efforts. It likely won’t get the Devils back in the playoff chase, but a couple wins over the last 10 days would be important for their confidence heading into the offseason. Some thoughts…
It’s over: Everyone can breathe a big sign of relief. The winless streak is finally over and it didn’t even take Ilya Kovalchuk returning to finally stop it. Of course, like I said above, this wasn’t a perfect game. They struggled to put pucks on net in the first and had difficulty finishing in the second before Ryan Carter snapped one of Ilya Bryzgalov’s shoulder. But the important thing was the Devils kept working in two very important areas: the neutral zone and below the Flyers’ goal line. The Devils did a good job in long stretches of stopping the Flyers at the blue line and both of the Devils even-strength goals came as a result of their work in the neutral zone. As for the forecheck, it was strong almost all night long. The Devils generated a ton of chances off their pressure below the goal line and it eventually wore down Philly’s defense. While the Devils aren’t talented enough to out-skill teams, they are dedicated and strong enough to out-work them. It’s a long shot, but wins like this are the kind of victories that send a team to length winning streaks. The Devils worked their way past an inferior opponent to a streak-busting victory and were rewarded after several games in which they played well but didn’t win.
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.
After six consecutive losses, something’s had to give.
Finally tonight something will.
Changes for Devs tonight; Larsson, Volchenkov in, Tallinder, Harrold out. Kostopoulos and Josefson in, Ponikarovsky, D'Agostini out.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) April 07, 2013
D’Agostini seems to be pressing, so it may not be a terrible idea to let him watch a game. DeBoer said he was looking for more bodies at the front of the net, and Josefson and Kostopoulos are likely the guys to score a “dirty goal” than Ponikarovsky or D’Agostini.
The defensive moves are not stunning either. Volchenkov and Larsson have been good, and in the second of back-to-back games, it seems like New Jersey needs some fresh legs in a must-win game.
Steve Sullivan will make his Devils redux tonight when New Jersey hosts Toronto.
We finally found out on which line and with whom he’ll be playing.
Devils' lines today: Elias-Loktionov-Sullivan; Zubrus-Zajac-Clarkson; Ponikarovsky-Henrique-D'Agostini; Carter-Gionta-Bernier.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) April 06, 2013
Sullivan is a skilled goal scorer, and with Devils are having trouble scoring goals, so it’s no surprise to see him on New Jersey’s top line with Patrik Elias and Andrei Loktionov. Elias and Sullivan played together in the AHL, and we’ll see if the two of them can find some magic they had there.
The move reunites the CBGB line, as Steve Bernier moves back with Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta on the fourth line. It also takes some of the pressure off Alexei Ponikarovsky– who is no skilled scorer– and Matt D’Agostini, who seems to be pressing. That third line can score goals but may not have to.
Two slumping players, David Clarkson and Travis Zajac, can work themselves out with Dainius Zubrus, who is still trying to regain his form after missing nearly two months with an injury.
All in all, this lineup is the best New Jersey can do without injured-forward Ilya Kovalchuk. These lines will need to jell quickly because Pete DeBoer can’t be patient with struggling lines if they’re not scoring goals with only 10 games to play after tonight
Postgame Thoughts: Panthers 3, Devils 2, OT (3/30/13)
The phrase “well, at least they got a point” is starting to mean something very different for these Devils. Tonight, it was more about the point not earned, much like last night’s loss to the Lightning. As the playoffs approach (very quickly, might I add), it’s becoming apparent that qualifying for the postseason isn’t as much of a sure thing as previously thought. Some thoughts…
Points on the table: In the spirit of Schoolboy Q’s “Hands on the Wheel,” the Devils are really starting to temp fate here. They should have come away from this two-game trip with at least three points, but instead blew leads in the final 30 seconds both games. Tonight was a game that saw them play physical and play well for the most part and they were rewarded for it with two goals that came as a result of that work. The problem wasn’t that the Devils took their foot off the gas. No, the Devils I think played too fast in the final minute. There’s a reason why Pete DeBoer called a timeout with the Panthers’ net empty. He wanted to the Devils to play calm, relaxed and smart, but instead they ended up running around in their own zone, chasing the puck and the Panthers were able to capitalize. As Steve Politi pointed out on Twitter after the game, the Devils have left at least eight to 10 points on the table this year, which is in direct opposition to the way they closed out games last season. Will those extra points come back to haunt them? It’s too early to say. I still think they’ll make the playoffs, but it could be a matter of seeding hurting the Devils in the first round. With the bottom of the East so tightly packed together, it’s starting to look like six, seven and eight will be separated by two to four points — points the Devils keep giving away.
Bad trend: As if giving away points wasn’t bad enough, it’s the trend of allowing a goal late in periods that has me really concerned. An obvious worry, I know, but what’s concerning is that this hasn’t just been a symbol of the Florida trip. The Devils allowed goals in the final minute of the second period in each the two games prior to this trip. I’m not sure if that’s a coincidence, but I know that it doesn’t look, sound, taste or smell like something a playoff team starts doing in the final month of the regular season. This is a veteran team with a good coach, so I’m not going to say the Devils are mailing in the final minute or looking forward to the locker room. What I will say is that the Devils’ difficulty finishing in the offensive end appears to have seeped over into the other end of the ice, which is inexcusable. DeBoer has to figure out a way to stop this before it becomes even more of a nightly occurrence than it already is.
The best thing: Martin Brodeur did almost everything he could to pull this one out, which is impressive considering he played both parts of the back-to-back set for the first time in a long time. There were a couple times when Marty went side to side, reacting off a rebound or a deflected puck and looked about 12 years younger. Of course, on the game-tying and game-winning goals, Brodeur was a step slow getting across the crease, a sign that he’s not going to “do it all” anymore. He’s still a very good goalie and was the main reason the Panthers didn’t put two or three goals into the back of the net in the second period, but he does still need some help — help that should come from a responsible defensive team.
Power Play: The other positive from tonight’s game was the power play, which seemed to build and improve with each opportunity before culminating with a goal on the Devils’ fourth man advantage of the game. While the first power play of the game was awful, the second was (as Tom Gulitti tweeted) “not terrible.” By the time the Devils got their third and fourth opportunities, they were throwing pucks at the net and getting some really good scoring chances. I liked seeing the point men put the puck in deep to players standing around the goal line. It allowed the Devils to get more shots on net but the direction of those shots (bad angles) often created rebounds in front for guys like David Clarkson and Steve Bernier to whack away at. I don’t think New Jersey’s figured out its power play just yet, but that was an encouraging sign.
Notes: Speaking of the power play, I like having Henrik Tallinder’s shot back there while Ilya Kovalchuk is out. Smart move by DeBoer to give him some run on the power play. … Boy, Steve Bernier had himself a heck of a game, didn’t he? Two goals both in the “dirty areas” that came as a result of him forechecking on the first one and a great screen/deflection on the second. … I don’t think any one line is going to stick together for an extended period witht his roster. DeBoer seems to prefer to mix and match as much as possible to start the third period. … In case you ever took Marty’s stickhandling for granted, I’m betting Jacob Markstrom’s adventure with the puck in the second period reminded you how much of a skill that can be for a goalie. On a related note: Are we done here with the stupid trapezoid or what? Can we just get rid of it already? … Devils were a much more physical team tonight on the whole and it’s something I’d expect to be more apparent once Dainius Zubrus is back in the lineup. … Two Scottie Upshall questions: 1) We’re SURE Scottie Upshall didn’t touch that puck with a high stick? 2) Smart play by him to basically lay down on the puck in the slot with the net open. He saved a goal there. … I’m starting to think Clarkson might be pressing for a contract. Just, you know, something that’s been floating around in my head. … Travis Zajac won the draw prior to the game-tying goal but it means nothing if the Devils can’t corral the puck afterward.
The Devils officially removed Alexei Ponikarovsky from injured reserve Friday, clearing the way for him to return to the lineup tonight against the Lightning. Ponikarovksy hasn’t played since March 19. The Devils don’t need to make a corresponding move since they never filled Ilya Kovalchuk’s roster spot after placing him on IR.
Ponikarovsky has one goal and five points in 17 games since being acquired via trade from the Jets.