The Devils held an optional skate Saturday morning and newcomer Matt D’Agostini was a full participant. D’Agostini is expected to make his Devils debut tonight against the Panthers.
Via Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice:
Devils coach Pete DeBoer said D’Agostini will play right wing tonight, but he hadn’t decided his line combinations yet or which forward will come out of the lineup.
“The line combinations we’re not set in stone yet,” DeBoer said. “We’re going to have another meeting after pre-game skate. So, we’ll decide on that this afternoon, , but he’s for me a top nine type forward, so we’re going to give him that opportunity.”
DeBoer said the same six defensemen will dress, meaning Mark Fayne will again be a healthy scratch.
D’Agostini sliding in at right wing makes sense. For one, he’s a right-handed shot and we know how much DeBoer prefers to use wingers on their natural side. Also, with Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson and Ryan Carter set on the top three lines, DeBoer has been searching for a fourth-line right winger. It’s a spot where the Devils have been searching for that one player to fit all season, much like they have with the first line left wing. Tom Kostopolous was the latest man to attempt it although I don’t think anyone was particularly blown away by what we saw from him. I like the idea of D’Agostini giving DeBoer some potential flexibility and goal scoring depth on the fourth line, although he did say that he views D’Agostini as a top-nine guy. We’ll have to wait and see. Tonight’s pregame line rushes should be pretty interesting.
As for the defense, I think I have no idea why Mark Fayne still isn’t playing. Is it because the Devils won Tuesday? I said on Twitter the other day that I thought Fayne needed to be in the lineup but I thought Peter Harrold maybe deserved another game. Well, he got that game and while he was solid, Fayne is still clearly the better defenseman. Plus, once Henrik Tallinder returns, it’ll only make the lineup even more difficult to crack and at that point, who comes out?
With no morning skate, the Devils were late to announce their lineup for tonight’s game. Johan Hedberg will get the start in net despite his recent struggles and the recently called-up Cam Janssen will replace Stefan Matteau and join fellow Bash Brother Krys Barch in the lineup.
I imagine DeBoer’s lineup decision led to a scene similar to this in the home locker room of the Prudential Center:
The Devils held an optional skate this morning, but coach Pete DeBoer revealed two lineup changes for tonight’s game, one more interesting than the other. First, the fourth line gets a bit of a change with Tim Sestito getting the chance to dress:
Also, there will be some changes on defense, with a certain slow-footed Russian getting a night off.
First thing’s first — obviously Ryan Carter won’t play tonight, but that’s not too big of a surprise. Sestito and Barch aren’t the same
player, but they’re pretty redundant when played together, so I wouldn’t expect them to be in the same lineup unless the Devils were in desperate need of healthy bodies or about to face the Broad Street Bullies for seven straight games. It also looks like DeBoer has seen enough in practice to roll his new line combos in an actual game. As we talked about yesterday, I’m a big fan of Loktionov and Kovy skating together, even if means Henrique is playing out of position. I think the Devils have to find ways to get Loktionov in more offensive situations with better skill players than Bobby Butler and Stefan Matteau. I’ll also be interested to see if Elias can keep (get?) Zajac on track after the two connected for a goal Sunday afternoon. Maybe the two of them can team up to find David Clarkson’s scoring touch. That also sounds like an awesome idea for a Hardy Boys knockoff.
Anyway — as for the defense, I think it’s finally time to admit the Devils seriously limit themselves whenever Tallinder and Volchenkov are in the lineup for the same game. It’s even worse when they’re paired together, but I can’t imagine we’ll see that again after the Capitals disaster. Tallinder will skate with Mark Fayne tonight, which should provide Tallinder a nice steadying presence. Needless to say, Tallinder has had a rough go this season, often looking like he’s got one foot in retirement and the other 15 feet away from the play. We’ll see if he plays any better tonight — but I doubt it. Who could’ve guessed the Devils would have eight defensemen on the roster but still be in need of help on the blue line after six weeks.
With Ryan Carter sidelined by some form of upper-body injury (read: likely concussion), the Devils suddenly have a hole on their third line. Enter the Devils’ apparent Mr. Fix It this season, Stefan Matteau.
Via Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice:
Rookie Stefan Matteau is skating in Carter’s place on the third line with Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. Matteau, who will turn 19 on Saturday, has been a healthy scratch the last three games.
Here is the breakdown of the players on the ice today:
Forwards: Alexei Ponikarovsky-Travis Zajac-Ilya Kovalchuk; Patrik Elias-Adam Henrique-David Clarkson; Stefan Matteau-Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier; Krys Barch-Andrei Loktionov-Bobby Butler.
I’m not quite sure how often I can bang this drum, but is this really the best development plan for the Devils’ first-round draft pick? It’s not so much the fact that he’s moved around in lines pretty much all season. That part, I get. I think that when he plays it’s good for him to experience playing with the top offensive forwards while also playing in lower-pressure situations on the fourth line and then on more defensive-minded shifts with Bernier and Gionta. But to be shuffled in and out of the NHL lineup and serving as somewhat of a “replacement player?” Does he stick around as the extra forward until Dainius Zubrus is healthy and then get sent down to the AHL? I just don’t see the benefit in him spending two games in and then three games out.
Matteau is the future of the Devils, and along with Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, will represent this franchise for the next seven-plus years. So why are we jerking him around? Wouldn’t it better for him to play every night rather than not know where he stands? I get the whole idea of him learning by watching and the theory that he’s got NHL-level talent, so why not let him test it against NHL players in practice and occasionally in games. But I find it wholly counterproductive to have Matteau play eight minutes a night for two games and then spend the next three games sitting in the press box when he could be playing 15 to 17 minutes a night with Albany against competition that, although not NHL caliber, is still strong enough to test him and develop him.
Alexei Ponikarovsky joined the Devils for his first skate since rejoining the team via trade Wednesday night. In Friday’s morning skate, during which Pete DeBoer generally ices the lines that will start that night’s game, Ponikarovsky was on the left wing of top centerman Travis Zajac.
This isn’t all that surprising — all you have to do is look at the players that have rotated through that spot thus far this season to understand the decision. DeBoer has tried Stefan Matteau, Ryan Carter, Bobby Butler, Jacob Josefson, Adam Henrique and Dainius Zubrus at first line left wing. Outside of Zubrus, Matteau has gotten the longest look there, but mostly for five or six shifts a game max. In a post I’ll (hopefully) get to later today, I’ll go deeper into the benefits on the Poni trade, but this is chief among them. I don’t know if he’ll spent the entire game there, especially if the Devils get off to a poor start again, but I imagine he’ll get a pretty long look.
As for the fourth line, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Barch gets the spot tonight. Going up against a physical Flyers team, you can pretty much bet there will be at least one shift or situation in which the Devils will need their enforcer. Plus, Matteau could probably use a night off to regroup after playing the last few games.
UPDATE: Matteau will indeed be a healthy scratch tonight.
The Devils got back to a full practice today, so I just wanted to pass on a couple notes, starting with how Pete DeBoer plans to deploy Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg this week.
And the fact that Ponikarovsky is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow against Philly.
No one said for sure where Poni will play, although I’ll merit a guess that he’ll get a fair amount of time on the first line. We’ll find out for sure at tomorrow’s morning skate.
As expected in the second half of a back to back…
Heddy will have to be on his game tomorrow. The Penguins are going to come out flying after today’s loss, especially being back at home.
Besides the Stefan Matteau news — which we’ll delve a little deeper into later today — the other item of importance out of today’s morning skate was the continued benching of Henrik Tallinder.
Pete DeBoer has stated and shown a willingness to rotate in all of his defensemen so far this season. Well, except for Peter Harrold. Sorry, Pete. So the question now becomes, how long will Tallinder sit for? Probably until Marek Zidlicky gets pulled. As more than a few of you pointed out on Twitter, Zidlicky’s ice time has dipped considerably since the Islanders loss last Thursday. After bottom out at 19:12 and playing mostly 22-plus minutes a night on the first line, Zidlicky has been demoted to the third unit over the last three games. He’s also seen his ice time drop from 18:26 to 16:30 to 13:19 in the last three games, respectively.
Zidlicky has struggled mightily this season, committing bad penalties and often being out of place in the defensive zone. His one plus is as the point man on the Devils’ power play, but he’s also been the lone defenseman on the ice for multiple short-handed rushes by opposing teams. If DeBoer truly believes the Devils have “eight NHL defensemen” then there’s no reason to keep an average power play specialist in the lineup, especially for 13 to 15 minutes a game. If Zidlicky’s ice time wanes again tonight against Tampa, it’ll likely be just a matter of time before he’s out and Tallinder returns.
Coming off their third straight OT loss, the Devils got right back to work Friday before heading off to Pennsylvania for Saturday’s game against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
Picking up where they left off last night, Adam Henrique was skating on the left side of the Devils’ top line alongside Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk. It was a little surprising considering Pete DeBoer admitted last night that he prefers to play Henrique at center. So why slot him in at LW right now?
Well that makes sense. They want to get him on the ice in key offensive situations, so giving him 14 minutes a night, most of that on the top line makes sense rather than burying him in between Krys Barch and Matt Anderson on the fourth line. Speaking of Anderson, David Satriano of the New York Post reported that Anderson says he’s being sent back down to Albany, which, if true, raises some interesting lineup questions. I don’t expect the Devils to play a man down, but I also don’t think anyone expected Anderson to pull a Stephen Gionta and just never leave. My guess? It’s either a contract for Mathieu Darche or Bobby Butler getting another shot. It’s too soon to recall Mattias Tedenby and I don’t know if there’s anyone else at the AHL level that can help this team at the moment. Then again, we were all wrong when they called up Anderson, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
As for the goalies this weekend, since the Devils play their first back-to-back set of the season, they’ll be splitting the duties over the two games.
Good decision by DeBoer to put Marty back in the net after his off night last night and to use your best goalie against Sid The Kid, while also avoiding the Isles seeing Brodeur for the third time in two weeks on Sunday. The Pens, meanwhile, will send Marc-Andre Fleury out against the Devils on Saturday, which surprises no one after Thomas Vokoun got the start Thursday and shut out the Rangers.
As for the rest of the lines and matchups from today’s practice, here you go, via Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice:
Adam Henrique-Travis Zajac-Ilya Kovalchuk
Dainius Zubrus-Patrik Elias-David Clarkson
Ryan Carter-Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier
Krys Barch-Jacob Josefson-Matt Anderson
Extra: Stefan Matteau, Mathieu Darche
Bryce Salvador-Anton Volchenkov
Andy Greene-Adam Larsson
Henrik Tallinder-Marek Zidlicky
Peter Harrold-Mark Fayne
It’ll be a big night for the future of the Devils(and for guys named Adam, too) on Thursday when Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson get their first crack at playing this season. Henrique’s been sidelined for two months following hand surgery. He, like Larsson, began the lockout playing with Albany of the AHL before getting hurt during a game in November.
“I thought we did a great job as a group of everyone stepping up while he was out,” coach Pete DeBoer said Thursday, “but hes a big part of our team obviously and you can start to slot people in the right spots when hes in the lineup.”
While Henrique will likely eventually slot in on the second line between Patrik Elias and David Clarkson, he’ll start Thursday’s game on the fourth unit, skating with Krys Barch and former Albany teammate Matt Anderson. Don’t expect that to stick though.
“I think that’s the plan right now,” DeBoer said, noting it’s possible Henrique could see time on the power play against the Islanders. “I’m sure knowing him that’s not gonna last for long.”
DeBoer said he has a number in his head for how many minutes he expects from Henrique tonight, but, of course, wouldn’t divulge it. He also acknowledged that’s subject to change.
For his part, Henrique said he feels good and the thumb is “good to go,” although he declined to say whether it’s 100 percent. As for how much he expects to play, Henrique towed the company line, so to speak.
“We’ll see what the game brings,” Henrique said. “Things change, but that’ll be up to the coach depending on what situation were in, how I’m feeling and where we are in the game.”
As for Larsson, the former first-round pick is getting his shot because of a minor upper-body injury to fellow defenseman Mark Fayne.
“It’s an opportunity to put a 100-percent-healthy guy in the lineup and get him a game,” DeBoer said. “Like we’ve said all along he’s an NHL player, we’ve just had the luxury of having some depth there so it’s nice to get him in.”
DeBoer doesn’t want Larsson to try to do too much to too much, stressing it’s important for the 20-year-old defenseman to stay within himself and play his game.
“I know my game and that’s what I’m gonna do out there,” Larsson said. “I’m not gonna change anything just because I’m sitting out for five games. … (They) put me in for a reason and they want to see my game out there, not somebody else.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done when you’ve barely played after suiting up for 65 contests as a rookie. Perhaps that’s why DeBoer decided to pair Larsson with veteran defenseman Andy Greene tonight. Greene should help provide a calming influence over the rookie, making sure he doesn’t try to prove he belongs in the NHL every time he’s out on the ice.
“I think hes smart enough to know he doesn’t need to score a goal to stay in the lineup,” DeBoer said of his young defenseman.