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: Devils 2, Islanders 1

The New Jersey Devils went to Long Island looking to right the ship after a shootout loss in Newark last night. In a battle between two goalies playing at the top of their games, it was Corey Schneider and the New Jersey Devils that came out on top, 2-1.  This one pushes the Devils’ record to 16-16-8 on the season.

- Adam Henrique continued a streak of excellent play with a backhander off of some great passing from Reid Boucher and Michael Ryder at 11:37 into the first.  This gave Henrique his second goal in as many games, and eight on the season.

- Frans Nielsen and line mates Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek were relentless in their pressure of the Devils’ D, and were rewarded for their gritty play with the tying goal at 10:31 in the third.  The goal was Nielsen’s 13th of the year.

- Travis Zajac was the unintentional recipient of the Devils’ go-ahead goal as Marek Zidlicky bounced a shot off of Frans Nielsen, and off Zajac’s upper-chest, and in.  A scary moment for the team as Zajac went down after the high shot, but he was back on the ice moments later.  Travis paid a heavy price for it, but the deflection gave him his 7th goal of the season.

Ryan Jahnke

New Jersey went into the Nassau Coliseum and came out winning by the skin of their teeth.  The Devils were tired out after last night’s overtime effort and could have given this one away several times.  You’ve gotta believe that things could have been different had John Tavares been on the ice for the Islanders.  But, in the end a little bit of luck and an outstanding performance by Corey Schneider brings home points 39 and 40 and brings the team back to NHL .500.

You really can’t say enough about the performance of Corey Schneider tonight.  Again, the Devils failed to post a great offensive night in front of him, and didn’t put together their best defensive showing either.  Your typical goalie could have been beaten up by the 31 shot effort that the Islanders put together tonight, but obviously Schneider is anything but typical.  Stopping everything but a deflected shot, Schneider had the answer for everything that the Isles threw his way.  Some credit has to go to Evgeni Nabokov as well, as for a while he seemed every bit a match for the Devils.  But tonight, Schneider was special, and put together one heck of an audition tape as he makes his case to be the starter for team USA in Sochi, Russia.

Coming into the game, all the focus was on the returning Bryce Salvador, and, for the most part, the Captain did not disappoint.  I stated in the Primer that coach Pete DeBoer would be cautious and use the veteran defender sparingly in first game back, and I could not have been more wrong.  Sal logged over 23 minutes of ice-time with partner Marek Zidlicky and looked strong and comfortable for 99% of it.  He’ll catch some flak for the turnover that lead to the tying goal from Frans Nielsen, but that’s not giving enough credit to the skill Thomas Vanek displayed snatching that puck out of the air and starting that scoring play.  That wasn’t Sal giving one away, but Vanek making something happen.

Offensively, the heroes of this game for New Jersey were Adam Henrique and Jaromir Jagr.  Adam Henrique has been one of the better players in red for a while now, but has had no puck-luck at all.  It got so bad that his Christmas present from his family was a horseshoe for good luck.  Seems like it might have helped as the young forward has two goals in the two games since the holiday break.  Of course, it could also be that he’s been playing at center for those two games, where he seems far more comfortable.  And then there’s #68 who continues to do everything right.  A lot will be said about how lucky the Devils’ second goal was, and it’s hard to completely disagree, but that doesn’t take into account the fantastic effort by Jagr to maintain possession and create time and space for the eventual shooter and scorer, Marek Zidlicky and Travis Zajac, to get into position.  Lucky bounce?  Maybe, but that goal doesn’t happen at all without Jaromir Jagr.  And, of course, let’s give a little bit of credit to Travis Zajac, who took a blast from Marek Zidlicky to put in that last goal.  That shot was so hard that it deflected off Nielsen first, before sending Zajac to the ice and still finding it’s way into the net.  Travis took one for the team and will feel that one for a while, but I’m sure the victory makes it easier to take.

Pregame Primer: Game Forty – Devils at Islanders

New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders – 7:00 pm

Nassau Coliseum  – Uniondale, N.Y.

TV: MSG +2  Radio: WFAN 101.9 fm, 660 am

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Another day, another back-to-back as the New Jersey Devils once again feel the sting of the Olympic schedule.  Tonight the red and black take their game out to the Island to try and rebound from last night’s gut-wrenching, shootout loss to Columbus.  Like the Blue Jackets, the Isles are a team that New Jersey has recently had trouble figuring out.  Though the Devs have only faced NYI once this year, a 4-3 shootout loss at the Rock in the home opener, the Islanders took last year’s series 3-2, even stealing two of those victories in Newark.  Though they’re opponents have been struggling lately, New Jersey can’t take the Islanders lightly, or those pesky New Yorkers in the blue and orange sweaters could happily rack-up a fourth straight against the boys from Brick City.

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  

1. Bryce Salvador returns.  For more than two months and 30 games, the Devils have been without Bryce Salvador, their Captain and the strong foundation of their defense.  Tonight, all of that changes as #24 comes back, strong and healthy.  Not yet sure what this will mean in terms of pairings.  Historically, Sal has been at his best when paired with faster, offensive defensemen like Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky, but he also has played quite a bit with Mark Fayne and I know that both Scott Stevens and Pete DeBoer would breathe a little easier if Salvador was out there to support one of their two rookie D-men.  There are strong cases to be made for any of several possibilities, but you can be sure that whomever Bryce is paired with, that line will see a strong and smart defensive performance, albeit with a cautious approach to their ice-time.

2. One captain comes back, while another leaves.  For the first time in 245 games, the Islanders will have to face the prospect of winning without their superstar center, John Tavares. The Isles’ Captain will be out of the lineup for tonight’s game, and possibly for a while with an unspecified lower-body injury.  This could just be a precautionary move by the team to protect their centerpiece, but with Tavares’ reputation as an ironman, the fans could be forgiven for holding their breath until they know a little more.  John Tavares is, for my money, one of the best players in the world right now, and was my pick for MVP last year.  I do hope he comes back soon, as the game is always more fun when you get to watch a player of his caliber.  For tonight, however, the Devils have to focus on taking advantage this opportunity.  The Islanders are a team that has trouble producing, and will likely have even more trouble without their team leader in assists, not to mention every other offensive category.  If the Devils can pounce on them and get an early lead, I don’t see the Isles finding a way to fight back.

3. Time for some new heroes.  The first meeting of the season between these two teams saw 2 goals from Damien Brunner on the New Jersey side, and a clutch one-on-one goal over Martin Brodeur in the sixth round of the shootout by Matt Moulsen to seal the victory for NYI. But tonight, things are going to look a little bit different. Brunner’s still sidelined, Corey Schneider is getting the start since Marty played last night, and Moulsen is now wearing Buffalo blue, after an early-season trade sent John Tavares’ favorite wingman up north in exchange for Thomas Vanek.  Who will be the hero tonight?  Will it be a veteran like Patrik Elias or Jaromir Jagr or a returning player like Ryan Clowe or Bryce Salvador that leads to a win for New Jersey, or will a Frans Nielsen or Evgeni Nabokov step-up for the Islanders in the absence of their Captain to continue their winning streak against the Devs?

Prediction – Devils 4 – Islanders 2

Even without Tavares, the Islanders are a talented team.  Evgeni Nabokov is still a good netminder, and players like Kyle Okposo, Nielsen, and Vanek can hurt a team on any night.  However, they have no experience playing without their top-gun in John Tavares, and will probably look a little lost having no time to get used to the situation.  Even after a typical slow start from New Jersey, the Devils will be able to wear down the New York with constant pressure and break through for several goals, taking this game from Isles, on the Island.

Enjoy the game, everyone.

The Captain Returns Tonight.

Ryan Jahnke

Bryce Salvador is back, Devils fans!  For more than two months now the Devils have had to carry on without #24, a loss that was felt in the locker room and on the ice.  Tonight, after 30 long games, that all changes as the Devils’ Captain laces up and returns to the starting lineup.

Fans will be able to see his impact right away in terms of possession and pacing.  Bryce is a smart and deliberate player, with a way of calming the game down.  He keeps the puck in the attacking zone on offense and slows down any rush attempts by the other team on defense.  You won’t see him out of position, making an errant pass, or getting caught on a change.

Don’t get me wrong, the Devils defense has been great this year, even during Sal’s absence.  Marek Zidlicky has been playing like a true blue-line threat, young players like Jon Merrill, and especially Eric Gelinas have picked up their games to a pro level faster than anyone could have expected, and Andy Greene has played like one of the elite defenseman in the NHL.  But, despite all that they’ve done right, they’re still committing too many costly errors.  How many times this year have you seen the Devils’ D have two players trapped in the same corner, or let a forward sneak in and plant themselves in front of the goalie?  These are the kinds of mistakes that allow opponents to get open shots on the netminder, and these are the kinds of mistakes that get cleaned up when Sal’s in the lineup.

The only ones that will be happier than the fans to see their Captain back out there, will be the ones that get to walk down the tunnel with him.  Bryce Salvador has that “C” thanks to his teammates and coaches.  They voted for him, because of the type of leader he is, and all of them will breathe a lot easier, and skate a lot faster, knowing that presence is back on the ice.

Bryce Salvador returns to practice: A welcomed sight for the Devils

Dave Turner

Tuesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets may have been the most frustrating defeat for the New Jersey Devils this season. Despite scoring four goals and holding a 3-1 lead in the second period, Columbus was able to put bodies in front of Martin Brodeur time and time again, which resulted in the dismal defensive display.

One thing is for certain; Bryce Salvador, the captain of this team is sorely missed right now. Bryce Salvador

No. 24 returned to practice on Wednesday as the Devils held a full-team skate following the loss. Salvador was out there for the first time since suffering a stress fracture in his foot.

Sure, there are plenty of Salvador detractors who question his ability to still play at a high level. There are even some who question his captaincy. I will say this and only this in response to anyone who questions a captain from the outside; no one knows what goes on behind closed doors and at practice in regards to his leadership abilities.

He is the captain of this team and will continue to be. Having him in the locker room is a huge plus, because he is the voice that everyone needs to listen to. After a game like last night, it hurts to not have a captain in the room to deal with damage control.

Though Bryce may have slowed down a bit since 2011-2012, there is still the physical edge to his game that the Devils are sorely lacking. Columbus should have just put up a tent in the crease on Tuesday because they were camped out there all night. Jon Merrill, who on many accounts has been solid since he was called up, looked lost on Matt Calvert’s third period goal. Sure, Brodeur might have played himself out of position, but Merrill just waved at Calvert with his stick as he cut in front of the net and scored. No taking the body, no tying his stick up. That’s unacceptable.

The entire defense was poor at one point or another against Columbus, not because of positioning, but because they just weren’t physical enough. The Blue Jackets are a team that tries to work the puck in deep and get bodies in front. The low slot, and even the crease, has to be cleared. Considering that their next opponent is the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that makes a living on throwing pucks on the net and grabbing rebounds, that kind of effort won’t cut it.

Salvador will bring that sort of physical play and tenacity and as a captain, he can do his best to lead by example and get after guys to do such a thing. The defense has been good lately. It’s not like this is an ongoing problem, but the Devils have to win contests when they notch four goals. So many nights this season the defense and goaltending has kept this team in the game long enough to either keep it close or even eek out a close win. The offense did their part on Tuesday.

Perhaps it’s just an aberration or a blip on the radar. If the Devils expect to climb into playoff position in a putrid Metropolitan Division, they’ll need the defense to lead the way. With that comes the return of Bryce Salvador to lead this team, both on and off the ice.

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What a difference a month makes

Dave Turner

Not long ago, the New Jersey Devils were toiling at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, trying to do anything to stay afloat.

Now, the Devils find themselves in a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division if the season were to end today. There’s a long way to go, but we’re finally seeing some cohesion from this team, as they’ve gone 5-1-1 in their last seven games.

The turnaround is especially impressive considering some of the injuries that this team has suffered. Captain Bryce Salvador has been out for an extended period of time with a stress fracture in his foot, yet the defense hasn’t missed a beat. Patrik Elias missed time and Ryane Clowe has been out with a concussion and there’s no clear timetable as to when his return will be.

Yet, somehow this team is finding ways to win games. The once cliche I use often is that good teams will find ways to win and bad teams will find ways to lose. For every bad loss, or “moral victory” the Devils went through in October, now, their getting those bounces. Whether its Dainus Zubrus’s goal out of a scramble in front against the Rangers, or Wednesday night’s flukey game-winning goal in overtime that was credited to Travis Zajac, the red and black are beginning to create their own luck.20120130-152120.jpg

It’s almost poetic justice that Zajac got credited with the goal last night. No. 19 has been spectacular of late, doing so many of the unnoticed things that don’t necessarily show up on a score sheet. He’s winning face-offs, killing penalties, moving the puck and pushing play forward in the offensive zone. His play to keep the puck in the zone on Jaromir Jagr’s game tying goal last nightwas a subtle, yet crucial play. Zajac certainly took his share of criticism for his play in the wake of signing his big contract extension, but he’s living up to that large number with his all-around play.

Another perennial whipping boy, Marek Zidlicky, has been a catalyst all season. During the offseason, I actually predicted that the Devils power play would be better without the “retired” No.17 and that Zidlicky would be a big part of it. What we’re seeing from the Czech defenseman is an excellent ability to create offense out of the back end. As the power play quarterback, Zidlicky has excelled not only passing the puck, but shooting as well. His 12 points (3g, 9a) are second only to Jagr.

As for the defense, the depth that they built has paid off in a big way. Say what you’d like about Peter Harrold and Mark Fayne, but they’ve both been pressed into service with the injuries to Salvador and more recently, Anton Volchenkov and they’ve both held their own.

One of the biggest questions that is facing this team in the coming days will be what to do with Eric Gelinas. Though he’s had some “rookie moments” that are to be expected with a young defenseman, overall, he’s been a shot in the arm for this team. He shoots the puck well, to the point where he’s dangerous any time he winds up to fire the puck. His seven points (2g, 5a) in 12 games equates to roughly 48 points in an 82 game season. Yeah, that. Eric Gelinas

It hasn’t all been pretty. The team continues to struggle to score in front of Cory Schneider. I don’t really buy the whole idea that Brodeur’s playing of the puck makes THAT much of a difference in the team’s ability to score. A goal here and there? Sure, but not to the extent that the team has failed to score when No. 35 is in net. Despite that, both goaltenders have been excellent. Though it was shaky at first, the tandem has turned into exactly what they were hoped to be: a 1-2 punch that gives the Devils a strong goaltending performance every night.

Damien Brunner, who might have been the hottest Devil to start the season, has been struggling. He seems very much like the type of player that needs speed and space to make plays, something that isn’t exactly the norm in the Devils offense. He had a similar slump last season, as he started and finished hot, but struggled in the middle of the 48-game season.

Despite the deficiencies that still linger with this team, we’re beginning to see this squad come together. With so many games yet to play and a tough test on Thursday night in Los Angeles, it’s going to be a grind. This team is not built to blow people out. Every win is going to have to come by way of outworking the opponent and scoring some opportunistic goals. If the defense can continue to hold its own and if the offense begins to find it’s stride, then this team will begin to cement itself in the middle of the Metropolitan Division playoff picture.

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With Kings in town, mixed memories for Devils fans

Jeff OConnor

Just hours away from the New Jersey Devils playing the Los Angeles Kings in the Prudential Center, mixed rob-scuderi-steve-bernier-kings-devils-game-6feelings are abound.

The Kings and Devils squared off in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, with the Kings winning the series and the Stanley Cup 4-2.  As a fan, it’s hard to still not be disappointed with the outcome.

I was at Game One of the series and I will always remember that odd man rush late in the third period where Mark Fayne was breaking down the slot, had the puck coming his way and couldn’t push the biscuit into an open net.  We’ll never know what would have happened, but that could have completely changed the outlook of the series.

It was tough not to feel helpless after Game Two.  Ilya Kovalchuk hit the crossbar in the final seconds and it felt like the longer the game kept going, the lesser their chances were at tying the series.  The Devils worked so hard to get each goal in those first two games and when Jeff Carter scored on such a seemingly harmless play, everyone’s heart sank.  They played much better in Game Three but the Kings buried all of their chances, putting the Devils on the brink.

I’ll remember the way they fought back, though.  They finally had a lead in Game Four, but it lasted all of one minute.  It was hard not to think it was over at that point.  The Kings could do no wrong.  When Adam Henrique scored though, it gave life to the fanbase.  If NJ could defend their home ice, all they had to do was win one more game in LA and they could be Stanley Cup Champs.  The sight of Zach Parise scoring the opening goal in Game Five, letting out a primal scream and pounding the boards with his hand will always have a place in my mind.  So will the memory of Bryce Salvador pumping his fist after his fourth goal of the playoffs.

I’ll remember the run up to that point.  Game Six certainly went to the wayside, but it was a great season.  Coming off a year where they missed the playoffs, it was an unexpected ride to the Finals, which made it all the more enjoyable.  Finally getting that first round monkey off their back in sudden death fashion, dominating the rivals from Pennsylvania and the Henrique winner against New York provided moments that Devils fans won’t soon forget.

I’ll remember getting to hear Doc Emrick’s voice every night.  It was a shock to all Devils fans when he stepped away from the Prudential Center microphone after the 2010-11 season.  After hearing he would still do national games, I half-jokingly said to a friend of mine, “Well, we’ll just have to get to the Stanley Cup Finals so Doc will call all our games”.  Turns out we got it a round earlier as well with Emrick calling the Rangers series.  I’ll always appreciate that because he was and always will be the voice of the New Jersey Devils.

Yes, we are reminded of disappointment when we see the Los Angeles Kings take the ice tonight in Newark but we should also reflect on the great moments in that series and recall the wonderful memories that led up to that point.