Another boring day in Devils-land…

Dave Turner

On Tuesday night the Devils defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 at Bell Centre. Boring!

Martin Brodeur stopped all but one Canadiens’ shot. It was like watching paint dry while listening to a presentation about a timeshare.

Mark Fayne, a defenseman, who didn’t record a point, was the third star of the game. Taking the SATs is more exciting than that.

Protecting a lead going into the third period, well, that’s like waiting on line at the DMV.

Devils hockey isn’t really all that dull, if you appreciate things like defense and three-zone hockey. Defense?!? Really?!

Wednesday night’s national contest between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins featured a team blowing a one-goal third period lead and countless players sitting wide open in the slot. No defense? Seems kind of boring. If I wanted to watch players go up and down the ends of a playing surface at will, I’d watch the NBA.

We all know about the comments that Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk made about the Devils, but it didn’t end there. After the Devils victory over Montreal, a blogger at Habseyesontheprize.com wrote an entire column lamenting over the the New Jersey style of play.

“Getting this out of the way now: The Devils are worse than watching paint dry, grass grow and turtles of the non-teenage mutant variety walk,” Mike O’Brand said in the piece.

To read more of this story, click here

Final Score: Blue Jackets 5 Devils 4

The New Jersey Devils fell to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday night by a final score of 5-4.  The loss drops the Devils to 12-14-6.

The Least You Should Know:

The Devils allowed a goal to Nick Foligno with 1:31 to go, which turned out to be the game-winning marker.

Damien Brunner broke his 17-game goalless drought with a pair of tallies.  He last scored on October 26  at Boston.

With two assists in tonight’s loss, Patrik Elias now has points in his last four games.

Jeff OConnor

This is the second game the Devils have lost year when they’ve scored at least four goals.  This was the first one in regulation and it stung bad.  Perhaps they didn’t deserve to win after watching their final 30 minutes, but they needed to sneak a point out of this contest.

This team just refuses to mark up people in front of the net.  Be sure to watch for that closely the next time the Devils are on, specifically on their power play.  They leave Martin Brodeur hanging in front with an opposing forward right in his face.  I’d rather a player walk right in from the circle with a clear path to the goal rather than let a guy receive the puck, unmarked in front of the crease.  That should never happen, ever.  They gave up several goals because of that tonight; Calvert’s in the third period and the final one to Foligno.  They really have no physical players on defense besides Anton Volchenkov and he has trouble keeping his balance on the ice.

After this game became 3-3. the offense went into a shell.  How many true chances were there for forwards?  Very few, if any.  Tons of shots from the point, which is normally not a good thing.  After having wide open transitions through the neutral zone in the first 30 minutes, this team could barely dump the puck in as the game winded down.

This Devils team, as currently constructed, is going to lose a fair share of games.  They’re not an extremely talented squad.  They have to earn everything.  Despite all that, they cannot afford to lose games when they score four goals.  The way things are starting to shake out, I’d have to believe the race for the final few spots in the Eastern Conference is going to be extraordinarily tight with several teams in the mix.  Up to this point, this is the most disappointing loss of the season.

Yes, you could show me the Calgary game or the Edmonton game or any other one from October.  That was a different team learning to play with each other.  Coming into tonight, this was a team that was consistently putting up great scoring chances and capitalizing enough to record their fair share of points over the last few weeks.

It couldn’t come at a worse time.  They’re heading to Pittsburgh on Friday and then they turn around with a contest in Newark the next day against Lightning team that is no slouch.

Hopefully, this game will be a distant memory come April.

Patrik Elias2

11/14 Notes: Elias back at practice, Jagr on WFAN at 12:30

Just some quick news and notes from early this morning.  Here are the Devils lines from today’s practice:

Zubrus-Zajac-Jagr

Brunner-Elias-Ryder

Henrique-Loktionov-Bernier

Carter-Gionta-Janssen

Greene-Zidlicky

Gelinas-Larsson

Harrold-Fayne

Goalies: Brodeur, Schneider

Tedenby, Josefson

Anton Volchenkov is not at practice due to a muscle pull in his leg.  Jon Merrill (facial lacerations), Bryce Salvador (fractured foot) and Ryane Clowe (head) are still out as well.

Cory Schneider will start against the Kings on Friday.

Programming Note:  Jaromir Jagr will be joining Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts on WFAN at 12:30 p.m. today.  You can listen at 660-AM, 101.9-FM or online here:  http://betaplayer.radio.com/player/sports-radio-66-wfan-ny

Pete DeBoer

Final Score: Wild 4, Devils 0

The New Jersey Devils fell to the Minnesota Wild 4-0 at XCel Energy Center on Sunday night. The loss drops the Devils to 3-7-4 on the season.

- In the first game against his old team, Zach Parise had an assist and drew the penalty that led to the Wild’s third goal.

- 47 percent of the shots came from Devils defensemen tonight.

- The Devils have not scored a goal in 149:06.  Their last goal was in the second period against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.

- Jon Merrill left the game a few minutes into his NHL debut.  On his second shift, he was run into the boards and suffered what the team called “lacerations” in his eye area.  He did not return.

Jeff OConnor

Pick any place to start and this was an all-around disappointing game.

Let’s begin with the offense.  This team produced simply nothing upfront.  They had 19 shots as a team.  Only 10 of them came from the forwards.  That’s inexcusable, even if you have some gunners on your blue line.  Sure, some of that is from Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac being out.  There’s enough talent on this team, however, to get a puck or two in the net.  They’re not throwing hacks and first-game rookies on the ice.  With these two guys out, it’s time for the Devils to load up their top two lines and live with two bottom lines who likely won’t produce anything.  Since it takes this team a while to get some chemistry, you might as well live and die with your top players getting the most ice time.

The defense needs to start standing up and playing physical.  I get it, they had to ride most of the game with only five defensemen, but the first two goals were the direct result of not clearing the front of the net.  Besides Anton Volchenkov, who was out tonight, not many guys on this team throw a hit.  In fact, I would say the next most physical guy on the team is Marek Zidlicky.  Frightening.  Apparently, these guys are also supposed to carry the load offensively as they took 47 percent of the team’s shots tonight.  The forwards need to help out a bit here.

This was a tough one to take.  If they lose, fine, understandable.  Minnesota is a good team.  Shut out with only 19 shots on goal after being blanked on 14 shots on home ice the night before to a divisional rival that had only two wins?  Dreadful.  Well, now they get three days off (again) before they take on those same Flyers on Thursday night.  These team is going to have its peaks and valleys, since the roster was assembled in pathwork fashion.  We know that.

They really need to see a peak on Thursday.

Another Loss, But Another Great Performance From The Defense

Devils-Isles

By Jeff O’Connor

It’s another disappointment.  Another frustrating night and another loss.  But the season-long weakness was actually a strength last night.

The New Jersey Devils defense was tremendous.  Everyone played their role and played it well.  Last night, none of the goals were their fault.  They smothered the Vancouver Canucks.

The first goal was on Cory Schneider, plain and simple.  If there is a forechecker even somewhere in the neighborhood, a goaltender needs to steer the puck below the circle, and even more preferably,  below the goal line.  He pushed it into the middle of the circle and moments later it was buried.

The defense wasn’t to blame for the second goal either.  Daniel Sedin blasted one from the left circle and beat Schneider down low.  He wasn’t screened, the shot wasn’t deflected or anything.

The D was just as solid as they were in the Rangers game.  Consider the Canucks are a much better team than the Rangers.  Consider the Canucks had no more than a few isolated scoring chances and it makes last night’s hellacious defensive effort that much more impressive.

The Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas unit played a strong game.  Larsson looked like the early 2013 version.  He was steady and made no big mistakes.  Gelinas was a bit hesitant on D but showed great skating ability, shaking defenders behind the net and bursting on the breakout through his own end and the neutral zone with the puck. Of course, the goal on the power play was great.

Andy Greene was his usual self and Mark Fayne, underwhelming in the first two periods, showed some rare physicality and aggressiveness by delivering some body checks in the third.  Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.

Marek Zidlicky and Anton Volchenkov were reliable too.  Zids was effective on the power play and kept many pucks in the offensive zone.  A-Train never got beaten in the neutral zone on a rush and threw some heavy checks in the middle of the game.

With Bryce Salvador on the way back from home and Peter Harrold waiting in the wings, who knows if these six will play together again on Saturday.  But for one night, the defense was not the culprit in another Devils loss.

Instant Insight – Penguins 3, Devils 0

800px-Crosby,_Sidney

Dave Turner

It wasn’t quite the result that the Devils had hoped for in their season opener, but there are still some positives to take out of the 3-0 loss in Pittsburgh.

The first thing to realize about opening night, is that everyone tends to overreact. Had the Devils won, it would have been the same thing, except the other way. It’s one game and they played on the road against a very good team. The Devils won’t be panicking, they’ll be getting ready for another important division tilt against the Islanders tomorrow night.

What Happened: The Devils surrendered two first period goals to the Penguins and despite playing strong hockey for the remaining 40 minutes, were unable to beat Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins iced it with a goal by Craig Adams at the 11:42 mark of the third period. New Jersey was plagued by turnovers in the first period and couldn’t respond to the early Penguin goals. Despite some good chances, the Devils were unable to find the back of the net. Adam Henrique was stoned by Fleury on a penalty shot late in the third, it was that kind of night.

Star of the Game: Marc-Andre Fleury. Was he spectacular? Not so much. He did keep the Devils off the board and made some key saves late in the third period. A good start to the season for a goaltender who looked so bad in last year’s playoffs.

Goat of the Game: Marek Zidlicky. You have to bury that shot in the second period. Fleury was down on the ice at the other side of the net and he got caught between passing and shooting. With that much of the net wide open and the game still 2-0, that could have been a huge boost. Now, missing a shot isn’t really grounds for being named the goat, but Zidlicky wasn’t great in the defensive zone either. He was out of position on numerous occasions and even tried to jump into a play at neutral ice, only to pull himself completely out of position and allow the Penguins a scoring chance. The Czech d-man also took the lone Devils minor penalty of the game.

Turning Point: It’s tough to pick out a single point where this game turned, but it might have been the first two minutes of the third period. The Devils had a solid second period and looked like they were on their way to making this a one-goal game. The minute that the Penguins were able to stop the Devils from getting a quick goal, the Devils seemed a bit deflated and the Pens were able to net another goal to put it away.

Grades:

Offense- C-minus - Did they have some chances to score? Yes. Did they capitalize on any of those? No. You have to finish. Scoring chances are great, but they mean nothing if you can’t even find a way to score one goal on the night. Props to Fleury, who did his job, but he wasn’t really tested much until late in the third period.

Defense- B-plus - Not a terrible night by the defense. Peter Harrold was lost on the 2-on-1 that led to the second Penguins goal, but as a whole the d-corps played well enough that if they Devils could have scored a few, they would have kept them in the game. Anton Volchenkov was very good at times. He seems to have regained a little speed, which allowed him to use his big frame to muscle players off the puck. Adam Larsson had a decent night as well, with no glaring mistakes in his own end, and a couple of strong plays in the offensive zone. Holding the Penguins to 21 total shots is an impressive feat.

Special Teams – B - The power play is going to be a work in progress. Any time you bring in that many new bodies, it’s going to take time for everyone to get comfortable and begin to work as a cohesive unit. The power play didn’t have a ton of opportunities, a credit to the Penguins for staying out of the box. There is room for improvement and with more time, they will begin to move the puck better and create opportunities. As for the penalty kill, that was a bright spot. In their one opportunity, they stymied the Penguins on the man-advantage. They’ll definitely be tested tomorrow night by an Islanders power play that gave the team fits last season.

Goaltending- C-minus - Cory Schneider gave up three goals on 21 shots. While he wasn’t awful, he certainly wasn’t as sharp as he was in the preseason. It’s a tough task to keep the Penguins at bay and though he made some nice saves, the Chuck Kobasew goal was the result of a bad rebound in front, and the Adams goal in the third had to be saved. You can’t get beat glove side on a shot like that.

Instant Insight: It certainly wasn’t the kind of opening night that the Devils were hoping for, but there were positives to take away. Though the offense didn’t score, you saw glimpses from players like Damien Brunner and Andrei Loktionov. With so many new line combinations, it’s going to take time for Pete DeBoer to find combinations that work. Defensively, they really limited the Penguins scoring chances after the first period and kept the Devils in the game long enough for them to make a comeback attempt.

The Devils will be right back in action tomorrow against the Islanders for their home opener. We’ll have more reaction and analysis from this loss, as well as our pregame primer for tomorrow night’s game.

Aiming For Bounce Back Seasons, Salvador And Volchenkov Shut Down Philly

By Jeff O’Connor

It felt like the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals all over again on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, as the New Jersey Devils downed the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1.  The game featured sharp goaltending, a fancy Marek Zidlicky, goal and relentless forechecking.  More importantly, there were two players that looked like their 2012 selves: Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov.

Salvador logged 24:24 of ice time with a plus-1 rating and five blocked shots.  Volchenkov was just as brilliant as he posted 17:10 on the ice to go along with a plus-1 rating and two blocked shots.

Bryce Salvador

Last year, Volchenkov and Salvador were weak points of the team.  Volchenkov had his lowest plus/minus rating since 2008-09.  His PIM/game was tremendously high; he averaged 1.0 PIM/game, which equates to 82 minutes over the course of a regular season.  His previous career high in PIM was in 2006-07 with 67.

Salvador was a minus-12 in 39 games, which extrapolates to well over a minus-24 for an 82-game slate.  Sal’s career worst came in 2005-06 when he was exactly minus-24.  According to behindthenet.ca, Salvador’s Corsi rating was a -1.37, worst on the team.  In fact, it ranked 95th among NHL defenseman who played at least 30 games.  Critics grilled Salvador’s first campaign as captain last year, saying he wasn’t vocal enough.  The fact of the matter is that no one is inside that lockerroom to see how he interacts with the team during the course of a game or when the media isn’t around.  Throw in the fact that he was hampered by a hip issue all year, The Captain struggled to lead by example.

For 2013-14, they will be the x-factors to the Devils success.  If they can rebound from the shaky seasons they had last year, their hopes of a championship will get a big shot in the arm.  On Tuesday, both were in vintage form.

Moments into the second period, the Devils found themselves on a penalty kill.  Towards the end of it, the Flyers were swarming and a clear cut chance looked to be on the way from the middle of the slot.  Volchenkov was able to hurry, dive and get his stick on the puck, catapulting it over the net.

At the end of the second period while on the PK, Salvador hit the deck to block a point shot with his lower body.  He did so successfully, grimacing a bit as the puck eventually bounced out to the neutral zone.  Flyers commentators Jim Jackson and Keith Jones gave him high praise for putting his body on the line during a preseason game.  I’m sure his teammates noticed and Devils fans should have too.

Both played very strong contests.  Great plays at time, but for the most part they were consistent and solid.  With Cory Schneider in net, that’s all the Devils defensemen need to be; solid.  Volchenkov and Salvador were on fire during the 2012 playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final.  They both played all 24 games, combining for five goals and 11 assists while checking in at plus-16. Devils-Isles

That’s too far-fetched a pace for them to duplicate in 2013-14.  But their numbers 2012-13 numbers shouldn’t be duplicated either, since they were the exception to the rule compared to their career baselines.

Consider this.  Ilya Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur missed significant chunks of last season.  They lost 12 straight games.  Their top two centers in Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac had extremely underwhelming seasons.  Salvador and Volchenkov had their worst seasons in Devils uniforms.  All that, and they only missed the playoffs by seven points.  If Salvador and Volchenkov can be, at the very least, somewhat productive this year, the Devils will be better than last year.

From what we saw on Tuesday, there’s hope for more than just being better.  There’s hope for both playing at the same level they did two seasons ago, when they fell just short of a Stanley Cup.

Five burning questions for Devils training camp

Dave Turner

As camp begins, the team is starting to take shape. Still, many questions remain about the roster and who will be a contributor this year. Here are five of the biggest questions coming into the season.

1. Can the defense begin to rebound?

Bryce SalvadorLast season was a tough campaign for the Devils defense.  Players like Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov struggled mightily at times. There’s no doubt that this is going to be an offensively-challenged team this season, so the impetus will be on the defense to step up their game. Salvador, who is 37, must be better this season. He’s going to be expected to log major minutes, and he has to carry the load. As the captain, there’s even more pressure on him to play well. Number 24 was so good in the 2011-2012 playoffs, that maybe the frantic 2102-2013 season was just a blip on the radar for him.

As far as Volchenkov goes, the Russian d-man had a challenging 2012-13 campaign. For a player that has made a career of blocking vulcanized rubber with all parts of his body, it seems like the rigors of his physical play have finally caught up to him. Volchenkov looked extremely slow, and that lack of speed resulted in poor positioning and many bad penalties.

It’s certainly not out of the question that one, or both of these defensemen can turn back the clock and provide a steady presence on the blue line this season. For both, there will be pressure to perform or else they’ll both end up sitting. With seven defensemen on the roster, and the glut of young, talented prospects, Salvador and Volchenkov will be under pressure to perform right away.

2. Speaking of defensive prospects, which young blueliner has the best chance of making the club out of camp?

To read more of this story, click here

Postgame Thoughts: Rangers 4, Devils 0 (4/27/13)

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?

BREAKING NEWS: Anton Volchenkov Suspended Four Games

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.

Corey Griffin

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.