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.
The last time the Devils were in the midst of a lengthy losing streak, Pat Pickens and I got together and debated whether the Devils were in real trouble. Pat was a little more optimistic than me, although we both saw a chance for redemption. Then Ilya Kovalchuk got hurt and the Devils went off the rails. With eight games left, Pat and I faced a simple questions: Will the Devils make the playoffs? What follows is a quick answer to that question followed by a debate over why it happened, how to fix it and whether Pete DeBoer should be part of the solution or on the chopping block.
Steve Sullivan will make his Devils redux tonight when New Jersey hosts Toronto.
We finally found out on which line and with whom he’ll be playing.
Devils' lines today: Elias-Loktionov-Sullivan; Zubrus-Zajac-Clarkson; Ponikarovsky-Henrique-D'Agostini; Carter-Gionta-Bernier.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) April 06, 2013
Sullivan is a skilled goal scorer, and with Devils are having trouble scoring goals, so it’s no surprise to see him on New Jersey’s top line with Patrik Elias and Andrei Loktionov. Elias and Sullivan played together in the AHL, and we’ll see if the two of them can find some magic they had there.
The move reunites the CBGB line, as Steve Bernier moves back with Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta on the fourth line. It also takes some of the pressure off Alexei Ponikarovsky– who is no skilled scorer– and Matt D’Agostini, who seems to be pressing. That third line can score goals but may not have to.
Two slumping players, David Clarkson and Travis Zajac, can work themselves out with Dainius Zubrus, who is still trying to regain his form after missing nearly two months with an injury.
All in all, this lineup is the best New Jersey can do without injured-forward Ilya Kovalchuk. These lines will need to jell quickly because Pete DeBoer can’t be patient with struggling lines if they’re not scoring goals with only 10 games to play after tonight
If you had to pick a word for tonight’s game, it would probably be disappointing. On a night they could’ve put six points between themselves and the Islanders, the Devils came out of the gate so sluggish someone joked they thought the game started at 7:30. Is it the end-all, be-all? No, but it’s not a good sign after being unable to finish off an opponent the past two games. Some thoughts…
10-minute warning: How many times have we talked about the Devils taking 10 or sometimes 20 minutes to show up in a game? Once again, the Devils seem to have tremendous difficulty generating energy to start a game, something coach Pete DeBoer seemed totally flummoxed by. He admitted after the game that the slow start (a trend all season long) was disappointing and said the Devils didn’t take the Islanders lightly. OK, fair enough. DeBoer also didn’t seem to have an answer for why things started off so sideways and said that he actually tried to be calm in (yet another) first-period timeout. Think about how differently this game goes if the Devils are at least somewhat present for the first half of the first period. I mean, how many timeouts does DeBoer have to call in the first period? Matter of fact — does anyone have that stat? The bottom line is I shouldn’t have to ask that question. This is a veteran team with leaders galore that has been through the ringer. Their coach knows what it takes at this time of the season; everyone from the goalie out knows what it takes. So why are the Devils still having the same problem in April they had in January? One theory is that there’s no one in the room willing to overturn a table or kick something across the room. I’m starting to think that might have some merit. Even listening to the few Devils talk after tonight’s game, you get the sense that things are too even-keel for a team that’s on the edge of the playoff picture. The problem is that’s not something you add at the deadline. That’s something you need from the get-go, a player that’s been through training camp and the dregs of the season in that room. I just don’t think they’re suddenly going to “figure out” these slow starts and that’s going to cost them, either at the end of the season or in the playoffs.
On the defensive: The problem with the Devils’ defense can be summed up by two plays, both goals. The first is the Isles’ first goal of the game in which Bryce Salvador was caught up ice near the center ice line on an excellent breakout pass from the Isles. Salvador tried to turn and swat at the puck with his stick but by that time was already behind the play, meaning Marek Zidlicky was stuck playing 2-on-1, which is never a good spot for Marek Zidlicky. The play was symbolic of the lack of speed on the back end and how that lack of speed consistently puts them out of position and forces them to chase the play. I understand that in this situation the Isles executed a scripted breakout play to near-perfection, but Salvador in particular has been guilty of this far too many times this season to simply write it off as the Isles “out-executing” the Devils. Salvador was on the ice for the second play, John Taraves’ power-play goal in the third that pretty much iced it. Salvador and Dainius Zubrus got caught watching the puck and lost track of Tavares (!), which is poor form during 5-on-5 play, let alone on the penalty kill. I hate to keep killing Salvador here, because Zubrus was just as much at fault on this particular play, but the lack of awareness is a shining example of the Devils’ poor defensive-zone coverage all season. How many times have we seen an opposing player seemingly drift uncovered to the weakside only to have a half-open net to shoot at? A lot, that’s how many. The big problem is I see no answers for either of these problems. This group of eight defensemen is slow and getting older by the day and their youngest defenseman, Adam Larsson, has been too inconsistent to be trusted as an all-facets defender.
Didn’t we talk about this: I wrote in the pregame thread that the Devils HAD to be wary of the Islanders’ power play. My concern was grounded in two facts: One, the Isles’ power play has been a top-10 unit all season while the Devils’ penalty kill has lumbered near the bottom third of the league. Two, Tavares, in particular, has been a nightmare for the Devils on the man advantage. Prior to tonight’s game, Tavares had five goals and two assists in four games against New Jersey with three of the goals and both assists coming on the power play. It’s why I turned to Kevin Schultz of Islanders Point Blank before the third and warned that a power play for the Isles would likely mean a third goal and the end of the game for New Jersey. That’s precisely what happened — and I don’t bring this up to pat myself on the back. I mention it to point out that the Devils, already down a goal, took a penalty and then didn’t make it a point to keep track of a man who has destroyed them on the man advantage. To rub salt in the wound, Alexei Ponikarovsky took an offensive-zone hooking penalty only a minute after Tavares’ goal. The Devils killed that one off, but it cost them two more minutes of 5-on-5 play while down two goals in the final 10 minutes of the game. Not a good formula for a comeback.
Add or subtract: With the trade deadline only two days away, tonight’s game certainly won’t quell feelings that the Devils need to make a move at the deadline. I’ve already made my feelings on what I think the Devils will do Wednesday — nothing. That’s not to say the Devils don’t need to do something. They could use another scorer and a mobile defenseman, but they don’t have the assets to make that happen. They’ve already traded away most of their draft picks from this season and some from next to acquire role players (Ponikarovsky, D’Agostini, Loktionov). Prospects? Sure, the Devils have a few, but I don’t see Lou willingly parting with them with the roster likely needing to be reshaped in the next two offseasons. Also, and this is what I think is more crucial — adding one or two players won’t suddenly make the Devils into a Cup contender. This is a flawed team struggling to make the playoffs. Some will point out that the Devils were in a similar position last year, but I don’t think it takes much time watching them to notice the Devils aren’t the same team as last year. The absence of Zach Parise has clearly had an effect on Travis Zajac, who remains a strong centerman overall but has lost a lot of his offensive game this season. Also, Adam Henrique is not the dynamic force he was last season. Adding pieces would make the Devils better right now, but it would come at the expense of valuable future assets (be it players or picks). That’s a high price to pay for a team light years behind the league’s elite class.
Notes: I’ll write about this more tomorrow, but damn David Clarkson looks frustrated. No matter how many shots he puts on net, nothing gets the goalie. If you watch him, it seems like he throws his head to the sky every time a puck gets deflected wide or goes high or a goalie makes a stop. … Andrei Loktionov isn’t the two-way player that Henrique or Zajac is and it’s becoming apparent that he needs a finisher to be effective in the offensive end. DeBoer tried Steve Bernier with him tonight (and there were a couple chances) but I wonder if D’Agostini might be a better option. … Tough go for Tom Kostopolous, who used his face to stop Matt Martin’s fist in an attempt to get the Devils going. Thankfully he’s expected to be OK, but it’s a little ridiculous that the Devils need something like that to spark them against a rival competing for the same playoff spots. … Is it just me or does it feel like Martin Brodeur needs to be perfect in the first period? … Not exactly a banner return for Zubrus, who looked tired and clearly rusty. Not sure if I would’ve used him on the PK in his first game back. Also not sure I would’ve played him tonight, period — especially with a pair of off days and full practices coming up tomorrow and Wednesday. … The Devils have no dynamic weapon capable of producing offense without Kovy. I know that’s an obvious statement, but it’s a problem considering they have Henrique, Zajac and Elias healthy. … Speaking of Zajac, for those of you that thought he looked off tonight, DeBoer said he had the flu and was throwing up between periods, which is why I’m cutting him some slack tonight. … I didn’t write about the dominant second period because it doesn’t matter. The Devils need to play 60 minutes or at least 40 minutes that way if they’re going to stay in the playoff chase. Any team can be dominant for one period against a fringe playoff team.
The Devils activated Dainius Zubrus from injured reserve Monday. Zubrus will return to the lineup tonight against the Islanders after being sidelined since Feb. 5 due to a torn tendon in his wrist that eventually required surgery.
Zubrus has one goal, four points, eight penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating in nine games.
It was hinted at Sunday when the Devils reassigned Tim Sestito to Albany to clear a roster spot. Was Dainius Zubrus ready to return? Would the Devils activate him without having so much as one full practice since Zubrus had wrist surgery? Is he the answer to what ails New Jersey? The answers are yes (kinda) and yes. As for the third one, we’ll see see.
DeBoer did admit the situation the Devils are in fighting for a playoff spot also played into the decision to have Zubrus play in a game without a full practice.
“I just think the time of year, the shortened schedule, the situation,” DeBoer said. “He had a practice yesterday, a contact practice with the guys we skated yesterday. So, it’s not like he’s checking himself out of the hospital and playing tonight. He’ll be ready to go.”
Although the team is in a precarious playoff position – four points ahead of the eighth-place Rangers and ninth-place Islanders with 13 games to go – Zubrus said he’s not rushing back to play sooner than he should be. Still, he admitted he’s not 100 percent yet and won’t be for a while.
“I’ve progressed a lot since my doctor gave me the OK to push as much as I can,” he said. “I think I’m at the stage where I’m not going to get maybe completely 100 percent for a few months, so it’s good, it’s strong and definitely strong enough to be in a game and that’s what I’ll be doing.”
When I asked Zubrus what percent he would say his wrist is, he would only say, “good enough.”
If Zubrus isn’t 100 percent now, he won’t be until next season, which lends some insight as to Zubrus’ recovery process. Tonight makes it about seven weeks since the Devils announced Zubrus would miss four to six weeks and it seems pretty obvious that the Devils might’ve been in precarious position by the time Zubrus was 100 percent healed. So what should you expect out of him? Definitely a physical, body-checking style that helps the Devils get their forecheck going early. He’ll be a sound player both ways that plays “heavy” as Pete DeBoer likes to say and helps the Devils establish the overall pace they want. Two things he will likely struggle with are shooting and passing. Given that this was a matter of torn ligaments in his wrist, there’s no way the strength in his wrist has reach the appropriate level to where he can put sufficient strength and power behind both shots and passes.
Even thought the Devils are off today, the team decided to return Tim Sestito to AHL Albany, which clears up a roster spot. With Ilya Kovalchuk not ready to return, this raises the question of what the Devils plan to do with the free space. Could Dainius Zubrus be ready to return?
As Gulitti points out, it would be out of character for Zubrus to return to the lineup without getting so much as one full practice with the team. As we saw with Alexei Ponikarovsky, Martin Brodeur and Henrik Tallinder, the Devils prefer an injured player get at least one full, non-morning-skate practice in and sometimes more than that. However, there was no one placed on waivers Sunday and there’s no reason for the Devils to clear a spot so far in advance of any possible trade. It could be that the Devils wanted Sestito to do play, something he wasn’t going to do in New Jersey. Maybe Zubrus will take part in tomorrow’s morning skate, practice with the team Wednesday and return to the lineup Thursday. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens at tomorrow’s morning skate.