If the New Jersey Devils score five goals a night, they are going to win a lot of hockey games. That’s likely not going to be the case for the remainder of the 2013-14 season. Three goals a night is realistic and ideal for this team to be successful. While everyone may have been blinded by the offensive production last night, three aspects may have been overlooked that have been just as key over the last few games.
The first is backchecking. If you were at The Rock last night, you can see the whole ice and watch the entire play develop. I’ve never seen the Devils forwards hustle back on defense more than I did last night. Can you even recall an odd-man rush for Nashville last night? I can’t. There were several times last night where Devils forwards caught up to Predator players and stole the puck in the neutral zone. I’m not sure if we will see it like that night every night, but that is one of the assets of this team with a few veterans out. Guys like Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby need to take every stride like its their last. They’ve skated like their hockey lives have depended on it and it’s helped this team win games.
The second aspect on display last night was the defensemen stepping up in the attacking zone. It felt like 2011-12 last night. All the defensemen were pinching up from the blue line to keep pucks in the offensive zone. This is what made the Devils so dangerous that year. Not only was the forecheck from the forwards ferocious, but their defense was tremendous at holding the puck in the attacking zone to tire out their other team and create scoring chances. Now ask yourself this, when are defensemen willing to pinch in the offensive zone? If they have trust that the team’s forwards will be there to back them up. Last night, the other defenseman slid over to the “pinched-in” area while a forward came back up the middle to cover for the rotating blue liner. It was executed seamlessly on many occasions last night. If the defenseman didn’t keep the puck in, it rolled out to the neutral zone where a Devil flagged it down seemingly most every time. The other team won’t be scoring very much if that’s the best they can do in exiting their own zone.
The lack of giveaways in the defensive end last night was very encouraging. When that happens, that makes zone exits a little cleaner and leads to a transition game through the neutral zone. There was one segment last night, I believe in the second period, where the team had five or six tries to get the puck out of their own end but the Preds held it in. That was it, though. The Devils didn’t have any giveaways that led to prime, quality scoring chances. The defense has played positionally sound for a few weeks now. If they can limit giveaways on TOP of that, Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider won’t have to do much of anything.
Now, they’re not going to play like this for the next 60-some games, but it provides a glimpse of their ceiling when they are playing their best hockey.
So while scoring goals is big for this team, if they get great goaltending and excel in backchecking, pinch-ins and limiting the giveaways in their own end, this offense may not need to be great.
And if they do turn out to be a great unit, well look out then, Metropolitan Division.
When New Jersey Devils captain Bryce Salvador returns to the team, someone will have to head back to the minors. There are several different options to choose from for GM Lou Lamoriello, which makes the decision a difficult one. Dave and Jeff debate who should be the odd man out that’s sent to Albany.
This is a tough decision, but the play of Eric Gelinas has put the Devils in a tough situation. If Gelinas wasn’t playing as well as he is, the decision would be quite simple: send him back down to Albany. In the preseason he was good, and now in three games, he’s already showing signs of the big-time expectations that this club has for him.
With that being said, I believe that it’s Peter Harrold who has to go. Here is where things get tricky… Harrold would have to clear waivers if he’s sent down to Albany. That fact means that any team could pick him up if the Devils were to try to send him down. Would the Devils like to lose him? Certainly not. Like Harrold or not, he’s a decent defenseman. He’s solid in his own zone and he has the ability to make some nice breakout passes.
What it boils down to right now is that Gelinas does more for this club than Harrold does. Would it be worth it to lose Harrold for nothing in order to keep Gelinas? I believe the answer to that is yes. The former Boston College Eagle was a nice part of the 2011-2012 Eastern Conference Championship team, but we know his ceiling. At his best, Harrold is a sixth defenseman. Optimally, he’s a very good seventh guy who can step in to the lineup and compete in the case of an injury.
The other x-factor in this decision is Mark Fayne. He has stepped it up in his opportunities so far this season and he’d serve just fine as the seventh defenseman. If this was an issue of leaving the team with only six d-men, then yes, Harrold would have to stay, but with Fayne, the team has the luxury of having a seventh man on the roster.
The other issue with sending No. 10 to Albany would be that if he does clear waivers, which is totally possible, his one-way, two-year contract at $800,000 would have to be paid as is. Lou Lamoriello has said that he doesn’t want to stash an NHL contract down in Albany, so that is definitely a deciding factor.
With the new ownership, $800,000 is not an exorbinant amount of money to eat. Gelinas is making $210,000 in Albany, so really, the difference is $590,000. In the pursuit of trying to win games and make the playoffs, is that such an insurmountable number? I don’t think so.
Though it would be unfortunate to lose Harrold if he’s picked up on waivers, keeping Eric Gelinas and Mark Fayne on the roster gives this team the best chance to win. We’ve already seen a glimpse of what Gelinas can do and it’s worth the risk, even at the expense of either losing Harrold, or paying him big money in the minors.
Believe it or not, Eric Gelinas should be the one heading back to Albany. Gelinas goes back to Albany, Salvador steps back into the starting lineup. Now, Pete DeBoer shouldn’t look at him as being in the minors. The Devils should call him back up when they feel a veteran should be healthy scratched. How you can do that, is sending players like Stephen Gionta, Mattias Tedenby or Jacob Josefson through waivers.
After losing Alex Urbom on waivers, I can’t see Lamoriello letting another defenseman going for nothing, but maybe he’d let a forward go if it means he could keep all his defensemen and use them how he wants to. The Devils have a surplus of bottom line spare parts like the afforementioned three. If potentially losing one of them means, in essence, keeping Gelinas around without losing Fayne or Harrold, they should go for it.
This probably goes against all conventional front office thinking, but it could work if the Devils don’t mind losing a forward. It’s highly doubtful anyone claims one of those three anyway. If they are, they must be on their active NHL roster. A team can’t claim one of those three forwards and just stash him with their AHL affiliate. Consider that when Ryane Clowe comes back, another forward will be dropping down to Albany anyway, so there will be EVEN MORE extra forwards.
Keeping Gelinas “on the team” will make the Devils the best club they can be. Their goaltending is set, they did all they could in the offseason to re-tool their offense and now their defense can have all its assets on the big roster. If they keep Gelinas around, they are leaving no stone unturned for 2013-14 and are putting the best possible roster they can on the ice every night.
This is a series of posts on the Devils’ pending free agents (restricted and unrestricted). We’ll cover their strengths and weaknesses and end up with a final verdict on whether we think the Devils should re-sign the player. There will also be a poll at the end of each post so you guys can weigh in with your thoughts.
Position: Center Age: 22 2013 statistics: 22 games/1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points/minus-10 rating, 2 PIMs Free-agent status: Restricted 2012-13 salary/cap hit: $900,000 (NHL)/$900,000 (NHL) (via Cap Geek) Team history: Drafted in first round (20th overall) in 2009
What he brings: Josefson is a sound defensive centerman. He’s the kind of player you can toss out on the ice on your third or fourth line and generally assume he’ll keep things in order and help lock down one of the opponent’s top units. He’s developed into a good penalty killer and spent a lot of time on the Devils’ PK units before being sent down to Albany in February. Josefson has good enough size (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) that he won’t get tossed around and can generally hold his own. The Stockholm native also has some nice hands and some undercover playmaking ability that shows itself now and again to be a real weapon.
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.
A lifeless start, a couple of bad penalty calls and suddenly the Devils were frustrated, losing and on their way to playoff elimination. All in all, a sad but fitting end (as far as playoff chances go) to a season that was flawed from the get-go. Some thoughts…
Two things: When you combine a lack or energy with some questionable officiating, you usually get one of two results. Sometimes the team will take on an “us against the world” mentality, snap out of their funk and go on a tear the rest of the game. That didn’t happen today. Instead, the Devils went further into their shell and seemingly quit on the game and essentially their season. Even Martin Brodeur admitted that he felt his teammates gave up when things didn’t go their way. The Devils basically mailed in the first period, negating to forecheck or apply any sort of offensive pressure on the Rangers. It was almost like the Devils came out assuming they were already eliminated from the playoffs. While it was a mathematical eventuality, it’s still disconcerting to hear players after the game talk about how they knew it was just a matter of time. When you hear stuff like that, you can understand why you get a first period like the Devils had today.
Did the Devils play an A-plus game? No. I’d argue they played a couple better overall games during the 10-game winless streak. But the important thing is the streak is over and the Devils are back in the win column thanks to a few superlative efforts. It likely won’t get the Devils back in the playoff chase, but a couple wins over the last 10 days would be important for their confidence heading into the offseason. Some thoughts…
It’s over: Everyone can breathe a big sign of relief. The winless streak is finally over and it didn’t even take Ilya Kovalchuk returning to finally stop it. Of course, like I said above, this wasn’t a perfect game. They struggled to put pucks on net in the first and had difficulty finishing in the second before Ryan Carter snapped one of Ilya Bryzgalov’s shoulder. But the important thing was the Devils kept working in two very important areas: the neutral zone and below the Flyers’ goal line. The Devils did a good job in long stretches of stopping the Flyers at the blue line and both of the Devils even-strength goals came as a result of their work in the neutral zone. As for the forecheck, it was strong almost all night long. The Devils generated a ton of chances off their pressure below the goal line and it eventually wore down Philly’s defense. While the Devils aren’t talented enough to out-skill teams, they are dedicated and strong enough to out-work them. It’s a long shot, but wins like this are the kind of victories that send a team to length winning streaks. The Devils worked their way past an inferior opponent to a streak-busting victory and were rewarded after several games in which they played well but didn’t win.
The Devils might be out of the playoff chase, but that doesn’t mean Pete DeBoer is going to stop trying to find a combination that finally gets the Devils back into the win column. Tonight, he’ll be swapping out Andrei Loktionov for Jacob Josefson, something Loktionov says he deserved.
“I think two games I played good and the last game I played OK,” Loktionov said. “That’s not good for me. I have to try play always good. I can’t play like that – up and down, up and down. I have to (keep getting better).
“Sometimes it’s good to see how the team plays when you sit upstairs. Sometimes you have to see what you need to do to score or do something on the ice.”
Coaches often tell young players – and Loktionov is still 22 – that they want them to watch a game from above to pick up on what other players are doing, but Loktionov said no one had to tell him that.
“They didn’t say anything,” he said. “It was from me because I didn’t score six, seven games. No points too. I have to do something. I expect that decision from the coach. I have to work hard on the ice and off the ice because if they put me in next game I will be playing much better. I kind of slowed down the last five games. Maybe I was thinking everything was good. I scored. I got some points. It’s life. It’s tough.”
If it feels like DeBoer is grasping at straws, it’s because he is. Ten straight losses will do that to any coach, especially one who already likes to tinker like DeBoer does. Josefson had his shot earlier in the year but failed to contribute anything on the offensive end and was sent down tto Albany, where he was sidetracked by a concussion. Loktionov was impressive to start once he joined the Devils and seemed to develop immediate chemistry with fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. Unfortunately, once Kovy went out of the lineup, Loktionov’s play dipped noticeably. I think he also hit a bit of the rookie wall while playing on a team that’s already struggling to score. The Devils are definitely high on Loktionov — you don’t play a rookie on the top line for most of the season if you’re not high on a player. But DeBoer has done this with several young players in hopes that it sends a message helps them relax and get their game back on track. I definitely think we’ll see Loktionov back in the lineup before the season is over, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he spends more than one game in the press box.
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.