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.
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.
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.
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.
Just hours away from the New Jersey Devils playing the Los Angeles Kings in the Prudential Center, mixed feelings 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.
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.
Eric Gelinas was recalled by the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday due to Bryce Salvador returning home because of a death in the family. It’s a great opportunity for Gelinas, who had a great camp, but don’t expect him to stick with the big club.
Gelinas had a great preseason, showing all the necessary tools to be a reliable NHL defenseman. Poise, physicality, speed, long reach and awareness. He looked like a 10-year NHL veteran when he was on the ice. Everything he did looked smooth. That’s a great sign. He has a shot to be the best all-around defenseman the Devils have had in years because of his raw talent. I’m not saying he’ll be exactly like him, but his stature, build and traits appear to be in the mold of a Zdeno Chara. Devils fans can only hope he’ll be close to his caliber.
He’s been tremendous with Albany this year. In five games, he’s got a power play goal and two assists. The Ontario native has hammered 20 shots to boot, tops on the team. The 22-year-old is a plus-two as well. There’s no question he can provide a lift to a team that lacks quality defenseman and a top-notch power play shot.
That said, don’t expect him to stick. The defensive core you have seen up to this point will continue to be the main guys.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Last 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?
In what can only be described as a tumultuous off-season for the Devils, there was a much welcomed positive moment on Thursday from Yankee Stadium. Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene were on hand at the ballpark for the announcement of the upcoming 2014 NHL Stadium Series games to be played at the iconic Bronx venue.
Both players are excited to be playing in the first outdoor game in Devils history, as it adds yet another great chapter to the Devils-Rangers rivalry.
“its going to be one of those experiences that you’ll remember forever and the history here, you hear all the stories, and to actually say that you played inside Yankee Stadium is one of those things that you’ll definitely remember,” said the Devils Captain. “It’s such a great experience for the fans and the organizations that they’re putting this all together, that it’s one of those things you just feel fortunate to be a part of. “
“It’s one of those great experiences and you can already tell because all of the requests i’m already getting for tickets. People want to come in, and I think it was even more [ticket requests] than the Stanley cup,” joked the defenseman.
Salvador, who grew up in Manitoba, has fond memories of playing outdoors as a child. ”From my house, the rink was a block away and I would put the skates on inside my house and we didn’t have skate guards back then, so i’d walk down the cement and usually there was enough snow on the ground and enough ice that I could skate down the sidewalks and skate down the roads and we’d play when the lights were on and when the lights were off, my parents said I had to come home.”
Outdoor hockey continues to be an integral part of the development of many NHL players, as those who came from snowy climates had the ability to play on frozen ponds and lakes during the winter months. For players, it’s a tremendous opportunity to play outside once again.
“We’re looking forward to it, it’s going to be a fun experience, and having the chance to watch a few of the winter classic games, you can always see the energy and feel the energy through the TV, so it’s going to be a great time and a lot of fun,” said Greene.
Greene, who grew up in Michigan, the site of this year’s Winter Classic at the University of Michigan football stadium, grew up playing baseball as well. “I played all the way up to my junior year of high school, I was center field and shortstop,” said Greene, about his time playing baseball. “I mostly hit for base hits, but hit a few home runs, I wasn’t much of a home run hitter, but I could get my way around.”
Both players spoke of the expected intensity between the two rivals, with 50,000-plus fans expected to be in attendance for the January 26, 2014 game, it should bring a whole different level of excitement to the game.
“I think it’s just another story in the chapter, it’s been a great rivalry between the Devils and the Rangers and it’s always exciting, so it’s an honor to be a part of it,” said Salvador.
Andy Greene echoed that sentiment as well. “It’s always a heated rivalry, it doesn’t matter whats going on with either of our respective seasons, it’s always a very heated game and it should be even more [heated].”
Up next for the team is training camp, which will begin in September. Camp will be a welcomed respite from the constant stream of bad news this offseason, from the losses of David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk, to the current ownership issues. Despite all of that, Bryce Salvador is already looking forward to the beginning of the season.
“Obviously we lost some great players and great teammates, but Lou did a great job of filling those holes. It’s just exciting because we know we’re going to be competitive.”
- Andy Greene was wearing an “A” on his jersey during the event. Nothing has said by the team yet as to if Greene will be wearing the letter during the upcoming season.
- The rink is going to be set up so that both of the ends will be along the first and third base lines.
- The games will take place during a very busy time for the New York City area. The Super Bowl will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on February 2, 2014.
- When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about reports that the NHL was taking over control of the team, his response was firm. “The NHL isn’t taking over the Devils. Just because there are reports, doesn’t mean they’re true”
(From left to right) Matt Moulson, John Tavares, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador
On a sweltering, humid August afternoon from Yankee Stadium, it’s usually all about balls and strikes, home runs and put-outs. But on Thursday, it was the NHL’s turn to step up to the plate.
The NHL formally introduced the two upcoming Outdoor Series games to be played at Yankee Stadium in 2014. The first matchup features the New Jersey Devils against their cross-Hudson rival New York Rangers, on Saturday, January 26, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. The second game pits the Rangers against their other metropolitan-area rival, New York Islanders. That game will be played on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
“We are delighted to be here to discuss the playing of two outdoor games in this magnificent stadium,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, from a podium situated just beyond the Yankee dugout. “The Stadium Series is designed to give more teams, more markets, and most importantly, more fans, the opportunity to connect with the excitement of the National Hockey League and to do it with an outdoor game experience, in effect, taking the game back to it’s roots, where so many of our players first learned to skate and play the game.”
In attendance for the event were New York Yankees President Randy Levine, Yankees COO Lonn Trost, NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr and NBC’s Bruce Beck, who was the master of ceremonies.
Each of the three area teams were represented as well, with GM Lou Lamoriello, Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene on the stage for the Devils. For the Islanders, it was GM Garth Snow, along with Matt Moulson and John Tavares, and for the Rangers, Assistant GM Jeff Gorton, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.
“This will be our first experience in the outdoor games, and what great a venue to have that experience than Yankee Stadium,” Lamoriello said. ”Our players are excited, our fans are excited and we’re just looking forward to the experience. We know that the games will be heated, we know that we bring competitiveness, and the experience will be something that everyone in our organization will cherish.”
With the players sitting together on the stage, it might be the one and only time that members of the three area clubs will be together and be all smiles at the same time. Come October, the three Metropolitan Division rivals will likely be fighting each other for playoff positioning.
The heated relationships between the clubs certainly adds to the allure of the event. There’s no doubt that the games may have a huge impact in the standings. With the three teams fighting for a spot in the new playoff format, the only way to be guaranteed a playoff spot is to finish third or higher in the new eight-team division. Finishing fourth runs the risk of losing the final spot in the newly-formed divisional playoffs to a team from the Atlantic Division.
Though there’s always the chance of warmer weather, or a rain storm, all signs point to the outdoor games being a tremendous event for not only the three teams, but the entire NHL. Throwing 50,000-plus fans into a stadium for a rivalry game should yield a fantastic experience for fans.
“The rivalries among the the Rangers, Islanders and Devils are among the most heated in sports, and we will put them on display,” Bettman said.
With the Devils slated to take the ice for their first outdoor game in franchise history in just over five months, it might be a little premature to get the coats and hand warmers ready. With a classic venue and a classic NHL rivalry, the game should be a home run.
Captain Bryce Salvador said he will not need surgery on his right hand and wrist, where he was struck by a Zdeno Chara slap shot.
“I’m pretty fortunate not to be working on my hand this summer,” he said. “I’ll probably be cleared (by doctors) in a week. No surgery, just a little rehab to get the strength back.”
It’s good news that he just needs a week or so to heal up and that shows (I’m guessing) if the Devils had made the playoffs, he would’ve been on the ice for Game 2 or Game 3, if not Game 1. Of course, before he returns to the lineup, he’ll obviously have to show Pete DeBoer he’s ready. “How will he do that,” you ask? I imagine it will go something like this:
As I said on Twitter postgame, this was an impressive win for a lot of reasons. Yes, the Devils probably should’ve played like this at some point during their 10-game slide. No, two more wins like this won’t drastically change how we look at the season. However, there were bright spots in this game that lend themselves toward a positive look for next season and it’s possible missing the playoffs flipped a switch in the psyche of a lot of these players, which is another topic for another day. As for tonight’s game, some thoughts…
Fortitude: At least for me, the most impressive part of tonight’s win came after the Canadiens scored two unanswered, the second of which came including one in the final minute of the second period. We’ve seen the Devils melt down multiple times in that scenario, giving up an early goal in the third and going on to lose in regulation or in extra play. It’s been one of my biggest criticisms of this Devils team, particularly during their recent slide. This team lacked a strong enough mental edge to their game to rebound from “woe is us” moments. Tonight, though, they didn’t need a timeout to correct them and while they struggled to get shots on net in the third, they still kept the Canadiens at bay for long stretches. Also, the Habs came out in the third and tried to bully the Devils, who fought right back. Ilya Kovalchuk, for one, went right at the Canadiens after he got hit from behind. Kovy’s response, along with the the energy he’s played with and the way he drives the train (so to speak), has me wondering if it should be Kovalchuk with the captain’s “C” next season. I know Salvador is respected in the room and a lot of guys like him, but would it kill them to give it to Kovy and have Salvador take an “A?” I think it would be a wise move that would help shape the team’s mindset going into next season. Food for thought.