Olympic Picks: Where Will Team USA Finish in Sochi?

With the first games of the Men’s Olympic Hockey Tournament set to begin on Wednesday, it’s time to break down the competitive field.

The Devils sent four players to Sochi, with Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky representing the Czech Republic and Damien Brunner representing the Swiss.

While the host country, Russia, s one of the favorites, the Canadian team is loaded. Of the 12 teams in the field, there are at least six teams that can make a pretty good case as to why they’ll take home the gold medal.

800px-RafalskiUSA2010WinterOlympicscelebration

Jeff’s Picks:

(Bold teams receive byes)

Group A -
USA 2-1-0-0  7 pts
Russia 1-1-1-0  6 pts
Slovakia 1-0-1-1  4 pts
Slovenia 0-0-0-3  0 pts

Group B – 
Finland 3-0-0-0  9 pts
Canada 2-0-0-1  6 pts
Norway 1-0-0-2   3 pts
Austria 0-0-0-3  0 pts

Group C – 
Czech Republic  2-1-0- 7 pts
Sweden  2-0-1-0  7 pts
Switzerland 1-0-1-1  4 pts
Latvia 0-0-0-3   0 pts

Bronze Medal Game
USA over Russia

Gold Medal Game
Czech Republic over Finland

Dave’s Picks:

Group A -
Russia 2-1-0-0  8 pts
USA 2-0-1-0  7 pts
Slovakia 1-0-0-2  3 pts
Slovenia 0-0-0-3  0 pts

Group B – 
Canada 3-0-0-0  9 pts
Finland 2-0-0-1  6 pts
Norway 1-0-0-2   3 pts
Austria 0-0-0-3  0 pts

Group C – 
Sweden  3-0-0-0  9 pts
Czech Republic  1-1-0-1 6 pts
Switzerland 1-0-1-1  4 pts
Latvia 0-0-0-3   0 pts

Bronze Medal Game
Russia over Finland

Gold Medal Game
Sweden over Canada

The Outlook for Team USA – 

Jeff OConnor


It seems to most everyone that Team USA is not as good as the 2010 version.  We’ll see.  The forward pool is mostly the same although I do fear about the defense.  There’s a lot of new faces on that backline and a lot of young guys too.  Reading between the lines of what head coach Dan Bylsma has been saying, it sounds like this is going to be a one-goalie team.  I think that one guy is going to be Ryan Miller, although I’d like to see Jonathan Quick in there.  We know Quick is great and he’s had a great team in front of him for a few years now.  Can Miller jump back to that same level he did four years ago, now that he’s surrounded by Olympians and not the slug players on the Buffalo Sabres?  To a degree yes, but I’m not sure how much is left.  Yes, USA does not have as much talent as others, but I think they are a well-built TEAM.  There’s scorers, playmakers as well as your glue and grit guys who can also put the puck in the net.  It seems like they are being written off already, but nothing would surprise me with this team.

Dave Turner

This is a different Team USA in 2014, but a team that certainly has enough talent to get it done. Offensively, they can score with the best. Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, the list goes on. Defensively, that’s what should have you worried. Are guys like Cam Fowler and John Carlson ready to step up? Can Dan Bylsma products Brooks Oprik and Paul Martin contribute? Perhaps an even bigger question is in goal. I believe that Ryan Miller deserves the first start and should be allowed to take the job and run with it. Should he falter, then it’s Quick’s turn. Miller’s performance in Vancouver should at least give him the benefit of a fair chance to play. This squad is different than some of the other Olympic teams because they went for a team-first mentality. Canada has an all-star team and even Sweden and Russia leaned that way. Team USA is built like a team that’s ready to scratch and claw it’s way through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Whether or not that translates into success remains to be seen, but they had a clear top-six, bottom-six in mind when they created this roster. I had them off the podium mostly because of the question mark in net, but if they get strong goaltending, this team will have every chance to compete for a gold.

Final Score: Capitals 3 Devils 0

The New Jersey Devils fell 3-0 to the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at Verizon Center, dropping their record to 24-22-13.

The Devils were shut out for the sixth time while Cory Schneider has been in net.  He’s held opponents to two-goals-or-less in 13 of his last 14 starts.

Dainius Zubrus led the Devils will five shots on goal tonight.

Julien Brouillette scored his first NHL goal for Washington midway through the third period, as the Caps added a pair of empty netters late in the game to ice the victory.

With the Olympic break ahead, the Devils are off until February 27 when they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at Prudential Center.

 

Jon Merrill is the ‘Last Man Standing’

Ryan Jahnke

There have been a lot of questions about the Devils’ defense as of late, particularly their younger members. The fans are clamoring to know where Adam Larsson is, and why, in spite of what he brings to a struggling offensive effort, Eric Gelinas has been sent down to Albany. In the middle of this uncertainty, a true point of stability for the Devils’ D-Men has been Jon Merrill.

In his 31 games since being promoted to the main roster on November 3, Jon has been the most consistent and reliable of any of the vaunted Devils call-ups. After a few early blunders and turnovers during his pairing with Gelinas, which lead to the two rookies being split-up, Merrill’s defensive game has continued to progress to a legitimate, NHL level.

In spite of his youth, the 22-year-old rookie from the University of Michigan plays a smart, confident, hard-working game. He blocks shots, makes the right passes, isn’t afraid of contact and doesn’t shy away from the hard work in the corners.  He also shows very strong stick skills for someone so young, and is consistently able to disrupt the opponent’s play with a timely poke-check or blocked pass that sends the play the other way. This is made all the more impressive when you consider the fact that Merrill had only 26 games of experience at the AHL level to call upon before being thrust onto the big stage.

In short, he has the instincts and plays the defensive game that his young counterparts haven’t quite grasped yet. That is why he has gained the trust of coach Pete DeBoer, earning plenty of time with the Devils’ power play and penalty kill units. In any game, any situation, No. 34 is a go to guy for the red and black. So, it should come as no surprise that during last night’s overtime period against an Edmonton team that had won five of six, the Devils rookie mainstay was out there on the blue-line, a decision that would be rewarded moments later when Jon Merrill netted his first NHL goal to secure a much needed two points for his struggling team.

After his game winning, overtime goal over Ilya Bryzgalov, it would appear that the shadow, not to mention the significant weight of 30 scoreless games, has been lifted off Merrill. After falling, almost inexplicably, to the second round of the draft because of  some very real questions about his maturity and character, Merrill has worked to shed the image of him that initially overshadowed his strong defensive mind, and solid offensive game in the eyes of NHL scouts. Jon spent several years splitting time between the University of Michigan and the US National U17 and U18 teams to prove that he could be the impact defender that scouts initially had near the top of their draft boards. The composed defenseman that helped the Devils come out on top last night is that player.

Merrill is the sole survivor in this pool of talented young defensemen for a reason. While he doesn’t have the top-flight expectations of Larsson, or the eye-popping numbers of Gelinas, Merrill has the strong fundamental skills to play and make a consistent difference at the NHL level on the defensive side of the ice. That is what anybody should be looking for, someone who can bring a bit of stability to a defense, and a roster, that is in constant flux.

Devils should stick with Schneider, despite potential for damaged relationship with Brodeur

Dave Turner

With the New York Yankees’ farewell tour for Mariano Rivera fresh in our minds, it’s easy to have wanted the same thing for Martin Brodeur. If this is, in fact, Brodeur’s final season, it seems like he may be down to his last few starts. With Cory Schneider establishing himself as the No. 1 goalie of late, there may not be much more of No. 30 between the pipes and that’s OK. Cory Schneider

We constantly try to humanize sports and make it about the individuals, but at the end of the day, it’s a business. It’s no knock on Brodeur to admit that the better goaltender is in net right now.

Starting Schneider now is about the present and the future.

Since the low point of his season, five goals allowed against the Blackhawks, Schneider has been excellent. He has given up three goals or more only once and he was under a minute away from surrendering just one, before a deflected pass resulted in a goal by David Legwand in the Devils 3-2 overtime loss to Nashville.

The case that the team scores more for Brodeur might be true in terms of sheer numbers, but with Brodeur struggling some, the decision to go to Schneider makes sense.

The former Boston College netminder has some of the best numbers in the game right now. Amongst goaltenders who have started at least 25 games this season, Schneider’s 1.88 ranks second in goals against average. His .925 save percentage ranks sixth among that same pool.

Saying that Brodeur should be the starter based on the team’s offensive production is a statement with wanton disregard for the production of the former Canuck. If you give up less goals, you have a better chance to win; plain and simple. Consider that the Devils are an offensively challenged team, the smaller the number of goals needed to win, the better off they are. Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 12.32.07 PM

Schneider’s numbers have been spectacular, but his play in itself warrants such a decision. His rebound control has been superb. When he’s on his game, he’s so positionally sound that he makes difficult saves look easy. Even last night against the Oilers, he made a few post-to-post saves with no wasted movement.

What we’re seeing from No. 35 is an ascension towards the top of the NHL goaltending hierarchy. For the first time in his career, he’s been given the keys to the car and he’s taken off with it.

More importantly, it’s about the future. The Devils have seen too many big names depart in prior years. The twenty seven-year-old is slated to become a free agent after next season, but as the Devils have so harshly learned, letting his contract situation to extend into the 2015 offseason may be a recipe for disaster.

Starting Schneider makes sense not just in terms of giving the team the best chance to advance to the postseason this year, but it may help during contract negotiations. Giving No.35 the starting role now and continuing it into next season should certainly help. If he constantly has to look over his shoulder, he may bolt for a situation where he’s guaranteed to start 60-plus games.

Though this team is no lock for the playoffs and it’ll take a strong effort coming out of the Olympic break, there is no doubt who should be in net. Again, this shouldn’t be looked at as a scathing indictment of the greatest goaltender of all-time. Right now, Cory Schneider is playing some of the best hockey of any goalie in the league and should be given the chance to backstop this team towards a playoff run.

Devils send Gelinas to Albany, recall Sislo

This afternoon, the New Jersey Devils announced that they have sent defenseman Eric Gelinas to Albany and recalled forward Mike Sislo to the big club.  The Devils had played the previous few games with seven defensemen and 11 forwards.

Jeff OConnor

Finally, there’s at least a solution.  Gelinas playing a handful of minutes a night was helping no one.  It’s a waste of his Eric Gelinastime and the coaching staff’s time if they’re not going to play him.

I know there are many who feel like the sky is falling, but there’s no need for that.  Gelinas will play for the Devils again.  He will even play seasons for the Devils soon enough.  Now is just not the time, for better or worse.

The Devils are going to play out the defensemen they have, regardless of the money they make or the number of years left on their deal.  Until Lou Lamoriello is willing to eat a contract, admit a mistake and use his final compliance buyout, this is the way it has to be.

Based on pure performance of play, we all know Bryce Salvador is barely worthy of a roster spot.  The same can be said for Anton Volchenkov and others.  Like in all workplaces, politics and money are involved.  If Salvador isn’t being a rotten apple, it looks bad on the organization to healthy scratch their captain.  The Devils management is too stubborn to look bad in regards to a player personnel decision.

Eric Gelinas will get his time.  It’s just not right now.

Pete DeBoer is getting the job done, regardless of his flaws

Jeff OConnor

New Jersey Devils head coach Pete DeBoer very rarely gets any credit when he does things right. A fair amount of the Devils fanbase criticize him over many little things during the course of a day, nevermind a game. It’s time to put aside the little “annoying things he does” and get down to the facts.

Let’s start with the things that frustrate Devils fans: Is the Eric Gelinas benching/scratching/sitting annoying? Yes. Is the shunning of Adam Larsson frustrating? No question. Do people get on him about having optional skates/days off? They sure do.

But what is really important? The bottom line for an NHL coach is to win hockey games. He’s done exactly that since arriving a few years ago.

In his first season, he had two All-Star players, a very good goalie and took them to the Finals.

It’s tough to grade him last year given it was a 48-game season. There’s no question that when Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk went down last year, the team completely changed. Just to point this out, the Devils were on pace for 97 points last year, given their 48-game sample. Just sayin’.Pete DeBoer

On to this year… The Devils are right where they should be; a team that’s right in the hunt for the playoffs. There’s not much more he can be squeezing out of this team. They’re currently a top 10 team in the league in team defense, penalty killing and power play. He’s tinkered his system this season to keep most of the action in their own zone to the outside. In his first full year of coaching Travis Zajac, No. 19 is playing like the top-line center he can be. After a rocky start, Damien Brunner has bought into his system and is now a consistent scoring threat. Adam Henrique has returned to rookie form. Not to mention his handling of Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur… that’s an easy situation to second guess from afar.

Unfortunately, DeBoer can’t control where the Devils shoot the puck. The lack of finish on this team can’t be pinned on him. This team has played very solid hockey for a few months now. They’ve been in mostly every game, while grabbing some victories along the way. All he can do is get the team motivated to play and make sure they’re executing his system.

So, while there are things Devils fans pick at with PDB, please go ahead and find me a perfect NHL coach. I’ll wait.

In his body of work, Pete DeBoer has consistently won during his tenure with the New Jersey Devils. It’s time to give him credit for that instead of grilling him for who is scratched and whether the team is, or is not, practicing for an hour on gameday mornings.

Final Score: Blues 3 – Devils 0

St. Louis gets a small measure of revenge on their home ice with a shutout over a snakebitten Devils team, who could not find an answer to the perfect play of Jaroslav Halak. This one drops the Devils’ record to 22-21-11 on the season.

- Alex Steen is having the season of a lifetime. Tonight he netted his 27th of the year on a wrister from Jaden Schwartz and David Backes in the first. As it would turn out, that goal was also the game winner.

- The dominant Blues power play that the Devils stoned last time came through in a big way tonight, with Brendan Morrow deflecting a shot from Jay Bouwmeester to break the Devils midway through the third period. On the other side of the ice, the Devils went 0/4 on their power play opportunities.

- With all the talk of Corey Schneider’s play coming into tonight, (which was still fantastic, even in a loss) it was Jaroslav Halak who who made a very strong push to be his team’s starter tonight with a 23 save shutout.

Ryan Jahnke

After crashing back down to Earth in the Bronx on Sunday, New Jersey took another hit via a shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

On Tuesday night, the Devils were left flustered, frustrated, and finally — for five periods and counting — scoreless. The Blues brought everything they had for their rematch with the Devils. Unlike the fatigued team that showed up in Newark to play on January 21, tonight St. Louis was fast and physical, and showed why they are considered among the league’s elite teams. The Blues didn’t overwhelm the Devils. For the most part the game was 1-0 until a deflected power play goal and an empty-netter changed the look of the scoresheet. Yet, somehow, the game was never really in doubt for St. Louis. The stat lines were pretty even, and might have even favored New Jersey. But, in the end, St. Louis played relentless coverage against their top scorers, pushed the Devils to the outside, and made sure that the vast majority of the Devils chances were no real threat.

For the Devils, it was a game that they’ll have trouble seeing the bright side of. Corey Schneider put together one of those games that he’s starting to become known for, but, true to their own reputation, the Devils offense failed to hold up their end of the bargain. This was more to the credit of the Blues. Whenever Jaromir Jagr got the puck, Barret Jackman was all over him, taking him off his game. The same could be said of Patrik Elias, Ryan Clowe, Ryan Carter, Michael Ryder and plenty others. While they didn’t necessarily play poorly, they were constantly prevented from hitting the top of their games. Every shot was contested, and every pass had two men in the way.

New Jersey’s defense, despite what the final score might have you think, played fairly well. They held the Blues to two very difficult goals, the empty-netter aside, and made sure that the team was in the game all the way. Eric Gelinas and Andy Greene played their part in the offensive zone, and, in general, the D did what they could to help push the team up the ice. In terms of intensity, however, they failed to match what St. Louis brought to the table. The Devils shooters had to work for every opportunity they had against Halak, and usually got a little roughed up for their trouble. The Blues, on the other hand, seemed to have plenty of time to work with against a very cautious Devils’ team. This is something that they must change if they want to right the ship Thursday in Dallas.