2013 may go down as one of the most challenging years in the history of the New Jersey Devils. To recap some of the events:
- There was the season that started not in late 2012, but 2013, after the NHL lockout. The Devils did so without their captain from the previous season, after Zach Parise departed for Minnesota. The 48-game slate was none to kind to the Devils, as they failed to reach the playoffs just one season after making the Stanley Cup Finals.
- Then, the shocking “retirement” of Ilya Kovalchuk shook the franchise as they were tasked with quickly rebuilding in the wake of losing their best player.
- David Clarkson also left, signing a big contact with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
- While hosting the draft, the Devils made a major trade that may shape the franchise for years to come, when they acquired Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks in front of a shocked Prudential Center crowd.
- In the wake of those major departures, Lou Lamoriello was tasked with rebuilding the roster. In came Michael Ryder, Damien Brunner, Ryane Clowe and Jaromir Jagr. All three have proven to be integral aspects of the team. Jagr has been an ageless wonder so far and his leadership on and off the ice has been a valuable asset. While Brunner hit a lull after starting fast, up until his knee injury, he was playing some of his best hockey. Michael Ryder had his struggles as well, but as the calender turns, he sits only one goal behind Jagr for the team lead in goals scored. As for Clowe, he’s finally starting to find his way after missing substantial time with a concussion.
- 2013 also saw the introduction of some promising rookies. Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill look like they may be a big part of the future on the blue line. Reid Boucher has shown glimpses of what he may become as well. Not to be forgotten is the stellar season that Keith Kinkaid is having for Albany, giving the Devils another option in goal for the future, or a trade asset.
In their first meeting of the season, the Ottawa Senators hung a five-spot on the New Jersey Devils up in Ottawa back in October. Their second matchup will be at The Rock this evening. The Sens come in having split their last six games while the Devils have lost five of their last seven.
Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Adam Henrique – Patrik Elias – Damien Brunner
Reid Boucher – Andrei Loktionov – Michael Ryder
Steve Bernier – Stephen Gionta – Cam Janssen
Andy Greene – Mark Fayne Eric Gelinas – Marek Zidlicky Anton Volchenkov – Jon Merrill
Goaltender: Martin Brodeur
Some thoughts on tonight’s game:
1. Different team, different result. Please don’t take any stock into the last matchup between these two teams. If you remember, that was rock bottom for the Devils the first few weeks into the season. That was their seventh straight loss before they came home to beat the Rangers for their first triumph of the season. That loss came in a game where the Devils were still learning to play with each other. Now, does this mean an automatic win for the Devils? Of course not. However, it should be a much, much tighter contest.
2. Much like Tampa’s D, Ottawa’s is bad. We saw firsthand how bad Tampa’s defense was this past weekend. This Ottawa D-corps is awful too. They allow the third-most shots in the league as well as allowing the fourth-most amount of goals. Their penalty kill is under 80 percent. Their goaltender tonight, Robin Lehner, has been pretty strong. He’s stopped 93 percent of pucks shot his way this year. If the effort is there from the Devils, they should be able to slip a few by him.
3. Will secondary scoring continue? It has been an absolute delight to watch players like Dainius Zubrus, Michael Ryder and Damien Brunner play big roles in the scoring department of late. Without superstars, the Devils need to be able to get scoring from all parts. Now, is this streak sustainable? Probably not. But as long they don’t go on big point droughts, that will go a long way in getting the Devils back to the postseason.
Prediction: Devils 3, Senators 2
I hope you all enjoyed that “kick back and relax” third period against Tampa on Saturday because I don’t think we are going to see one of those again for a long while. We all know the Devils aren’t really cut out for easy victories, so that’s what it will be tonight; a grind. Also, bold prediction: Reid Boucher gets his first NHL goal tonight.
The New Jersey Devils defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 3-0. The two teams skated in front of a sparse crowd at Prudential Center due to the snowstorm that has been dumping snow across the tri-state area. The win brings New Jersey’s record to 13-15-6 on the season, good for 32 points.
- Martin Brodeur notched his third shutout of the season by stopping all 33 Tampa Bay shots. The shutout is the 124th of Brodeur’s career.
- Damien Brunner stayed hot by opening the scoring the second period. Unlike last night, when Marc-Andre Fleury stoned him on a breakaway, on Saturday, Brunner was able to beat Anders Lindback for the goal.
- Dainius Zubrus had a fantastic third period, scoring twice to help seal the deal for the Devils.
- Jaromir Jagr assisted on both third period goals.
For a while, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Lightning scored a goal.
That goal never came.
Martin Brodeur stopped 33 shots en-route to a shutout, in what may be his finest performance of the season. With the Lightning buzzing in the second period, Brodeur shut the door to keep New Jersey in the game.
Enter Damien Brunner.
Brunner, who hadn’t scored in ages, prior to his two-goal game against Columbus, stayed hot, as he beat Anders Lindback for a goal, which turned out to be all they needed.
The resurgence of the young Swiss forward is a huge lift for the Devils. He started the season with three goals in his first three games, but after a lengthy slump, he found himself as a healthy scratch for a few games.
For Brunner, consistency seems to be the issue. There’s no doubt that he has the skating and shooting ability to be a 20-plus goal scorer in the NHL, but month-long slumps can’t happen. Perhaps the benching, coupled by his strong play of late will keep him focused. If he’s able to be a more reliable contributor, it makes the Devils a much more dangerous team.
Not to be lost in the fray is the play of the first line of Travis Zajac, Jaromir Jagr and Dainius Zubrus. With two goals tonight, after scoring against Pittsburgh on Friday, Zubrus now has seven tallies on the season. For Jagr, his two assists give him 11 goals and 17 helpers on the season, a team leading 28 points.
“I don’t think it was our best game, but we’ll take it. Of course Marty played great, so we’ll take a few days off and go back at it,” said Zubrus.
With the first line clicking, along with Brunner and Michael Ryder finding the back of the net again, it’s a good sign.
Considering the effort that they had during the second and third periods against Pittsburgh, this was almost a must-win. Despite their recent struggles, they’re now just five points behind second place Washington.
As they forge on into the middle-portion of the 2013-2014 season, it’s all about finding a way to be on the positive end of that deciding goal. The Devils have played 19 one-goal games this season, with five of those being shootout losses.
With a close game almost to to be expected, it’s all about finding a way to keep teams off the board late, or get that big late-game goal. The Devils have displayed all of those lately. They surrendered late leads to Montreal and New York, failed to score when in control against Pittsburgh and scored a big goal in overtime like they did against the Rangers.
The win over Tampa Bay was a strong response to last night’s loss, but they have to build on this performance heading into next week. The Devils will take on Ottawa on Wednesday and Anaheim on Friday from Prudential Center before heading to Washington on Saturday for the second half of a back-to-back.
Not so long ago, the Devils put together a string of games that saw them post 20 goals in a seven game span, which was an average of 2.86 goals per game. Now, this team has struggled to score, tallying just four goals over their last three games, two of which have been losses.
Aside from Jaromir Jagr and more recently, Patrik Elias, and to some extent Ryan Carter, the Devils have struggled to score. With the goaltending turning in a strong performance almost every night, it’s almost safe to say that two goals may get this team at least a point in more games than not. Scoring that second and even a third goal, has been a major struggle as of late.
Here are some offensive numbers for the Devils notable forwards over each of their own last ten games played:
Including Elias, who missed a few games in November, these three have been producing. They don’t exactly have jaw-dropping numbers, but Elias is scoring almost a point a game over his last ten games played.
Jagr has lead the team in shots over that span and it has payed off, his six goals on 28 shots is good for 21.4% which means that just over one in every five shots he’s taken has found the back of the net.
After those three, that’s where things get a little dicey, after that, the scoring numbers drop off drastically:
Travis Zajac has been playing an excellent two way game, so though his numbers are far from stellar, he’s at least contributing to the club in other ways. Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder were expected to be big parts of the offense this year and their numbers just don’t cut it. Henrique has the fewest shots of anyone who was listed here. Furthermore, he’s had some good chances, but just can’t seem to bury them.
As for Loktionov and Brunner, it has been very much a downhill struggle since the beginning of the season. Andrei Loktionov started strong and looked like he was poised for a breakout season of sorts. Now, he’s struggling, with only one point in his last ten games played. There might not be any bigger disappointment so far this season than Damien Brunner. He got off to such a good start, with five points in his first five games in New Jersey. Since then, he has been held off of the score sheet in 16 of his last 17 games played. That has has to change.
To put this in perspective, Eric Gelinas’s six points over his last ten games are more than Henrique, Ryder and Brunner COMBINED. In that same span, Marek Zidlicky has four points. Combine the two defensemen’s points totals and they have just one fewer point than Zajac, Henrique, Brunner, Ryder and Loktionov combined.
Clearly, the offense has struggled. It almost seems as if players such as Michael Ryder and Damien Brunner have struggled to fit into the Devils system, that requires players to forecheck, win pucks in the corners and grind their way into goals. Ryder and Brunner are above-average shooters, but both need space to work with. A lot of times you’ll see Ryder with a little room and he tries to make a move. That’s just who he is, an open ice player. For both of them, the best bet would be to put them in a situation that allows them to just shoot the puck. Whether it’s keeping Elias at center to help distribute, or some sort of different line combination that will allow for more shots, something has to be done to help get those players out of their current slumps.
The goaltending has been there. This team is in every game they play because of the strong play of the defense and both Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider. The difference right now is that this team has been unable to give enough support to either to capitalize on enough of their chances to gain points.
New Jersey Devils at Edmonton Oilers, 9:30 pm
Rexall Place – Edmonton, Alberta
TV: MSG+ Radio: WFAN 101.9 fm, 660 am
The Devils head out west to begin their five-game road trip. Up first is the 0-0-2 Edmonton Oilers. Both teams are in search of their first win of the season, so something has to give tonight. While the Oilers are not a great defensive team, they have a tremendous amount of speed on offense. Give them space through the neutral zone and they will make you pay.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returns for the Oilers tonight and Jason LaBarbera will be in goal, after Devan Dubnyk played the first two games of the season.
Here are the Devils lines for tonight, as reported by Tom Gulitti of the Record.
Dainius Zubrus – Patrik Elias – Jaromir Jagr
Adam Henrique – Travis Zajac – Michael Ryder
Ryane Clowe – Andrei Loktionov – Damien Brunner
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene – Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov – Peter Harrold
Goaltender: Martin Brodeur
Here are some thoughts on tonight’s game:
1. Scoring first is key - The Oilers have given up a ton of goals in their first two games. The fact is, they’re not a great defensive team. Throw in the fact that their backup goalie, Jason LaBarbera is making his first start of the season and it should be a recipe for success. Scoring first would go a long way towards the confidence of the Devils as they continue to feel out these lines. Couple in the fact that the crowd in Edmonton can get pretty rowdy, an early tally by New Jersey would do a lot to silence the crowd as well.
2. Stronger play in the neutral zone is paramount - When the Devils have been beaten for goals this year, they have come as a result of breakdowns in neutral ice. Certainly, working in all of the new players has something to do with it, but at some point the team needs to backcheck more efficiently and limit chances. The Islanders torched the Devils with their speed through neutral ice on Friday and the Oilers are a team with similar amounts of speed.
3. Play Eastern Conference hockey. These two clubs haven’t met since January 11th 2012. The contrast in styles is stark. The Oilers are content to push play forward and use their speed to create turnovers and odd-man rushes. As for the Devils, it’s still about working the puck in deep and using their forecheck to their advantage. The Oilers are not a very physical team, so if the Devils are able to establish their forecheck early and possess the puck, they should find some success. Though New Jersey has some weapons, the last thing they want to do is get caught up in an end-to-end game that would play into Edmonton’s favor.
4. How will the new lines work for New Jersey? Patrik Elias is centering Dainius Zubrus and Jaromir Jagr to start the night. Putting Jagr on this line seems like an attempt to get him going. A goal for #68 would go a long way towards getting his confidence up after struggling on Friday night. The line of Clowe, Loktionov and Brunner should be a nice mix of speed and size.
Prediction: Devils 4, Oilers 2
The pressure is mounting for the Devils to get their first win. Another loss, with a showdown tomorrow night against the Canucks, would force New Jersey into what would almost be a must-win situation in Vancouver. A big W tonight would alleviate some of the pressure and also help to lessen much of the burden on Cory Schneider’s start in his return to British Columbia.
As long as the Devils are able to establish their forecheck, they should be able to work the puck around and find some holes in the Oilers defense. Look for the Oilers to come out strong at first, with the return of Nugent-Hopkins to the lineup. In the end, the Devils physical style will be too much and they’ll skate to their first win of the season.
We’ll have our Instant Insight article up after the conclusion of tonight’s game.
Lou Lamoriello is making the rounds today. Earlier Wednesday, he spoke to Rich Chere about some of the Devils’ lower-level free agents. Now, Tom Gulitti has some updates on some of the more high-priority free agents.
Lamoriello said he's been "talking to" agents for Elias, Clarkson, Zubrus, Zidlicky, Harrold.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) May 29, 2013
Lamoriello on trying to sign Elias, Clarkson, Zubrus, Zidlicky, etc. before July 5: "In my opinion, they have to be done before that."— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) May 29, 2013
That second tweet is far more important than the first one. It’s no surprise Lou is talking to their agents. Hell, he BETTER be talking to their agents with free agent less than six weeks away. The question is how many, if any, of them are willing to sign before free agency opens. For someone like Elias, who has spent his whole career with N.J., it makes sense for that to get done in advance. A guy like Zubrus that likes Pete DeBoer and knows where he fits on the team and in the system also might be willing to sign before the market opens.
However, for Clarkson and Zidlicky, this could mean they’ve played their last game in a Devils uniform. Clarkson is HIGHLY unlikely to strike any sort of deal before allowing a bidding war to start on the open market. Also, Zidlicky is likely to fetch more in free agency in terms of dollars than the Devils would likely be willing to pay him. That said, this is a wise move for Lou in my opinion. There’s no reason to get sucked into any sort of bidding war for any of these players, regardless of how much Clarkson means to the team and the franchise. I thought that Clarkson would eventually re-sign with the only team he’s ever known, but it sounds like I was wrong.
Even though the Devils’ 2013 season is over, we can still look back at some great moments in New Jersey’s playoff history.
On May 6…
1972- Denis and Mireille Brodeur welcomed a baby boy, Martin, into the world. That boy would grow into the Devils’ — and arguably the NHL’s — greatest goalie of all time.
1988- The Boston Bruins hammer the Devils, 6-1, in game 3 of the Wales Conference Finals at Brendan Byrne Arena, taking a 2-1 edge in the best-of-7 series.
Still, this game is widely remembered for the postgame verbal — and possible physical — assault by Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld on official Don Koharski.
2000- Scott Gomez registers two assists, and John Madden notches the game-winning goal, helping the Devils to a 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Air Canada Centre.
2012- After falling behind 2-0, the Devils storm back for four-unanswered goals, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 in game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifnals at Prudential Center.
Dainius Zubrus scores twice, and Petr Sykora registers a goal and an assist, as the Devils take a 3-1 series advantage.
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.
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.