As 2013 ends, the Devils look to make a splash in 2014

Dave Turner

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.

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Final Score: Devils 5, Capitals 4

The New Jersey Devils came to the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. and fought off an offensive onslaught as they rallied back to beat the Capitals 5-4.  This one pushes the Devils’ record to 15-15-7 on the season.

- Marek Zidlicky with a first period, power play goal that came together after some great puck movement from Andy Greene, Jaromir Jagr, and the rest of the power play line.  That’s Zidlicky’s 4th of the season, all of them coming on the power play

- Jason Chimera scored at the midway point of period number 2 on a rebound off his own wrap-around to tie the game at 1.

- Mikhail Grabovski was left all-alone behind the Devils’ D to pop in the go ahead goal, his 10th goal of the season, off a nice pass from Eric Fehr.

Joel Ward found his own rebound just before the end of the 2nd period off of a Mike Green slap shot to net his 11th of the year, and the Caps’ 3rd of the night.

Jaromir Jagr netted a power play goal from Greene and Patrik Elias to breathe a little bit of life back into the Devs.  This ties him with Mark Messier at 694 career goals, and counting.

Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps took advantage of a turnover by Elias and took a little bit of wind out of the Devils sails making it a 4-2 game.

- Marek Zidlicky responded on a great feed from Travis Zajac, netting his second of the night, and his first even-strength goal of the year.

-Dainius Zubrus got the tip off another beautiful pass by Travis Zajac.  New Jersey rallied back from the brink to tie it up at four.

- Andy Greene sealed the comeback victory after he chipped in a rebound off a shot by Jaromir Jagr.

Ryan Jahnke

The Devils gave their fans another collective heart-attack tonight.  The Devils were winded and hurting, playing their third game in 4 days, and it almost came back to bite them.  But, it was all worth it, as the comeback kids scored 3 unanswered goals to beat take down Washington and bring themselves to NHL .500.

We’ve talked a lot about the impressive youth movement that is exciting the fans in New Jersey, with the likes of Eric Gelinas and Reid Boucher playing important roles in the Devils’ starting lineup.  Tonight was no different, the younger players looked good and hustled hard.  But tonight was all about the vets.  With goals from Zidlicky, Jagr and Zubrus, and Greene, the only man on the New Jersey scoresheet younger than 30 was Travis Zajac.  Jagr, Elias, Greene, and Zajac also each had a pair of assists, meaning that every player on the Devils’ side of the scoresheet had a multi-point night.

And what more can be said about Jaromir Jagr?  The man never ceases to amaze, playing like a number one forward at age 41, and making everyone around him better.  Tonight #68 continued his climb towards history as he recorded his 694th NHL, regular season goal.  This tied him with former Rangers teammate , Mark Messier, for 7th all time.

And, even on a night where they gave up 4 goals, there is something to be said for the Devils’ defense.  Only a few games removed from fighting off top scoring tandems of Crosby and Malkin, and Getzlaf and Perry, tonight the Devils were faced with the task of holding off offensive superstars, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin, and hold them off they did.  Backstrom, the league leader in assists coming into the game, was completely absent, and Ovechkin, was a non-factor until a Patrik Elias turnover in the zone gave the league’s top-scorer an open shot at Martin Brodeur.

It wasn’t a perfect effort, not by any means.  I’m sure a fair amount of people were ready to give up after the second period.  But in the end, they worked hard and earned themselves the 2 points that they desperately needed.  Now they’re sitting at third in a very shaky division and starting to show that they’re a team that can do some damage going forward.

Final Score: Penguins 3, Devils 2

The New Jersey Devils rallied to put together a decent effort, but could not overcome early mistakes as they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA., by the score of 3-2.  This one pushes the Devils’ record to 12-15-6 on the season.

Pascal Dupuis got the final touch as he and Chris Kunitz rushed Corey Schneider who thought he had the puck covered.  A mental lapse from the goaltender and the defense that should have been back supporting him put the Devils on the wrong-end of their earliest deficit on the season.

- Chris Conner scored off of a pretty pass from Brandon Sutter and a pretty awful defensive breakdown by both Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill.

- Jason Megna  put the exclamation point on an awful period from the Devils with a wrist shot goal at 14:40 to put the Pens up 3-0 going into the first intermission.

- Patrik Elias brought the New Jersey back to life with a beautiful redirection of an Anton Volchenkov pass from the side boards to give the Devils their first goal at 3:24 into the second.

- Dainius Zubrus poked in goal number 2, less than a minute after the first, pushing a Jaromir Jagr shot across the line.

Ryan Jahnke

With the loss to Columbus still fresh in their minds, fans of the New Jersey Devils were hoping for the team to come out angry and looking to make up for lost points.  What they got, however, was a mistake-ladened team that got overwhelmed all-too quickly, and almost let the game slip away without a fight.

The first period was one of the worst in recent memory.  It only took 41 seconds to get this game going in the wrong direction for the Devils as Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz came barreling down on a loose puck that Corey Schneider thought he had covered up.  A big mental mistake by Schneider, but even more so from the defense that let two Penguins come in unimpeded to take their shots at the Jersey goaltender.

Things would only get worse for the Jersey defense in the first, in particular their rookie defensemen, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas.  After Merrill mishandled an easy pass from Gelinas, turning it over to the Penguins, Eric Gelinas made a rookie mistake and left his post to cover for Merrill along the boards, leaving Conner open to score his second goal of the season, one-on-one over Schneider.  Shortly after this, the Gelinas – Merrill pairing was separated.  Jason Megna’s somewhat controversial goal towards the end of the third, his fourth of the season, the Devils headed down the tunnel for the first intermission with their heads hanging.

In the second period, however, things got turned upside-down.  The Devils didn’t just play better, they thoroughly dominated the class of the Metro division, outshooting the Penguins 32-11, and outscoring them 2-0.  All of the momentum was on the side of the Red and Black for the final 40 of the game, and had it not been for a few posts in their way, we could be talking about a different outcome here.  But in the end, unfortunately for the Devils’ Army, New Jersey couldn’t find any more than those two quick second period goals, and dropped their second straight game.

In a rare turn, especially considering that we’re talking about a losing effort, the bright spots for the Devils came from the offense tonight.  Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, and Travis Zajac played superb games for the Devils at both ends of the ice, as did tonight’s fourth line of Jacob JosefsonTim Sestito, and Cam Janssen.  Three players in particular who had great games out there for New Jersey, but were left with nothing to show for it, were Adam Henrique, Steve Bernier and Damien Brunner.  Brunner continued trending upward while playing alongside Elias, and was robbed of his third goal in his last two games by a fantastic save from Marc-Andre Fleury, a feeling that Steve Bernier can relate to tonight.

Henrique, on the other hand, beat Pittsbrugh’s goaltender to the glove side with a chance to tie the game, but couldn’t best the post.  A similar situation occurred in the closing seconds of the game, but that time Henrique’s backhander sailed wide.  It’s unfortunate that all that Adam Henrique can take away from this game are a couple of missed opportunities and a costly penalty for playing with a broken stick, because he had a good game tonight.

The defense didn’t have their best game tonight, although they weren’t terrible.  In a game where defensive mistakes cost New Jersey at least 2, and maybe all three, goals, they were scored by Dupuis, Conner, and Megna.  Pittsburgh’s high-scoring superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were shut down by the Devils’ D.  Between them, the league’s top scorers managed just 2 shots and a lone secondary assist, which Crosby collected on Pittsburgh’s first, fluky goal.

In the crease, another good night by Schneider will be marred by the first goal.  After all, defense or no, if he just drops his pad down on the ice, the whole thing never happens.  After that he played about as well as any goalie could under the circumstances only surrendering the other goals on a bad breakaway and after some contact in the crease from Megna lead to a bad rebound and a goal.  But tonight, regardless of how well Corey played, Marc-Andre Fleury was the star between the pipes.

Fleury has had a bad reputation in the years since the Penguins’ cup victory, and even briefly lost his job to veteran Tomáš Vokoun.  But, he has responded with a grit that many didn’t know he had, and he showed that tonight.  His 37 saves on the Devils 39 shots, especially those against Brunner and Bernier, were what kept Pittsburgh from giving this game away.

Final Score: Devils 4, Rangers 3

The New Jersey Devils defeated the New York Rangers for the third straight time, this one ending 4-3 in overtime from Madison Square Garden in New York, NY.  The win pushes the Devils to 12-13-6 on the season.

Brad Richards scored on a 2 on 1 against Martin Brodeur in the first period continuing his recent string of good play.  He currently stands at 3 goals in his last 6 games.

- Mats Zuccarello started off the second period with a big goal off a rebound from a shot by Ryan Callahan to give his team a 2-0 lead.

- Cam Janssen stood up strong for his teammates and used his skates rather than his hands to make his biggest contribution with a big response goal for the Devils to bring the game 2-1.

- Travis Zajac tied up the game at 2 midway through the third going top-shelf off a rebound from Jaromir Jagr.

- Michael Ryder netted his third goal in his last four games beating Henrik Lundqvist through the 5-hole to give the Devils a 3-2 lead.

Chris Kreider got a chip-in goal on a 6 on 4 power play in the last minute of the game, after Travis Zajac took a terrible delay-of-game penalty.

Eric Gelinas scored his own power play goal on a bomb from beyond the top of the circle in overtime to secure the OT win for the Devils.

Ryan Jahnke

Coming off three consecutive losses to Eastern Conference foes, the Devils came into Madison Square Garden this Saturday night needing a win to help get things back on track.  In the end, the comeback kids came through, as another never-say-die third period effort and a timely power play in OT lead to a big win for Jersey’s team.

Special teams came through in a huge for New Jersey.  While their penalty kill was nearly lights out again, save for that nearly infamous 6 on 4, the Devils’ power play got to play the role of hero tonight.  Granted, it took an overtime 4 on 3 to set things right, but when they got the chance, they stepped up and Eric Gelinas sealed the deal.  Still, as good as the Devils’ kill was, you have to wonder if the PK crew has seen too much action recently with 15 penalties against the Devils in the last 4 games.  We’re going to have to pay attention to this going forward, as all that time shorthanded is bound to catch up to any team eventually.

There were plenty of good moments for the Red and Black, and so many of them came from fan favorite Cam Janssen.  Cam, well-known as bit of a fire-starter, was all over the ice with big hits and game-changing plays.  He skated over and stood up for Patrik Elias against Rangers’ defender Justin Faulk, before motoring down to the other end of the ice to slide feet first into the Devils’ opening goal.  While controversial to everyone wearing blue, new rules allow for redirection as long as there is still no distinct kicking motion.  So the goal was deemed clean, which was consistent with the way that similar situations have been ruled by the crew in Toronto thus far this year.  But, even beyond that first goal, Janssen made sure that his presence was felt, and his team fed off that energy turning a potential disaster, after the Zuccarello goal, into a very good second period and game for the Devils.  Simply put, the Devils don’t win tonight without #25 on the ice.

As has become the norm this season, the Devils also saw some pretty strong performances from the usual suspects.  Jaromir Jagr was as strong and prominent as anyone on the ice tonight.  Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, and Eric Gelinas played top-flight hockey throughout the game, holding their positions and creating strong chances and points for the offense.  Michael Ryder continued his hot-streak finding the net yet again, this time for the win and Adam Henrique was highly aggressive and was a constant threat to Henrik Lundqvist.  Some surprise contributions also came in from Cam Janssen, as well as Tim Sestito who provided a strong forecheck and the primary assist on Janssen’s and Ryder’s goals.

And, no Devils recap would be complete without mentioning a terrific effort by one of their two superstar goaltenders.  Tonight was Brodeur’s turn between the pipes, and the vet did not disappoint.  After letting in a goal on a rough 2 on 1 against Brad Richards where he dipped his shoulder a hair too low giving Richards the top corner, #30 was fantastic stopping all but the unreachable.  And, while tonight it was the offense who stepped up big, this was another big win in MSG for Martin Brodeur.

For those of you who are wondering, the points challenge between Marty and Cam is on, but because Marty got the secondary assist on the goal, neither player gained any ground tonight.

By the numbers – Where has all the scoring gone?

Dave Turner

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:

Jaromir Jagr - 6 goals, 2 assists – plus-4 rating, 28 shots on goal

Patrik Elias - 3 goals, 6 assists – plus-1 rating, 16 shots on goal

Dainius Zubrus - 1 goal, 5 assists – plus-5 rating, 17 shots on goal

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. Patrik Elias

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 - 2 goals, 2 assists – plus-2 rating, 15 shots on goal

Adam Henrique - 1 goal, 2 assists – plus-1 rating, 13 shots on goal

Michael Ryder - 1 goal, 2 assists – minus-2 rating, 16 shots on goal

Andrei Loktionov - 0 goals, 1 assist – minus-2 rating, 16 shots on goal

Damien Brunner - 0 goals, 0 assists – minus-2 rating, 16 shots on goal

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. Damien BrunnerRyder 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.

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What a difference a month makes

Dave Turner

Not long ago, the New Jersey Devils were toiling at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, trying to do anything to stay afloat.

Now, the Devils find themselves in a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division if the season were to end today. There’s a long way to go, but we’re finally seeing some cohesion from this team, as they’ve gone 5-1-1 in their last seven games.

The turnaround is especially impressive considering some of the injuries that this team has suffered. Captain Bryce Salvador has been out for an extended period of time with a stress fracture in his foot, yet the defense hasn’t missed a beat. Patrik Elias missed time and Ryane Clowe has been out with a concussion and there’s no clear timetable as to when his return will be.

Yet, somehow this team is finding ways to win games. The once cliche I use often is that good teams will find ways to win and bad teams will find ways to lose. For every bad loss, or “moral victory” the Devils went through in October, now, their getting those bounces. Whether its Dainus Zubrus’s goal out of a scramble in front against the Rangers, or Wednesday night’s flukey game-winning goal in overtime that was credited to Travis Zajac, the red and black are beginning to create their own luck.20120130-152120.jpg

It’s almost poetic justice that Zajac got credited with the goal last night. No. 19 has been spectacular of late, doing so many of the unnoticed things that don’t necessarily show up on a score sheet. He’s winning face-offs, killing penalties, moving the puck and pushing play forward in the offensive zone. His play to keep the puck in the zone on Jaromir Jagr’s game tying goal last nightwas a subtle, yet crucial play. Zajac certainly took his share of criticism for his play in the wake of signing his big contract extension, but he’s living up to that large number with his all-around play.

Another perennial whipping boy, Marek Zidlicky, has been a catalyst all season. During the offseason, I actually predicted that the Devils power play would be better without the “retired” No.17 and that Zidlicky would be a big part of it. What we’re seeing from the Czech defenseman is an excellent ability to create offense out of the back end. As the power play quarterback, Zidlicky has excelled not only passing the puck, but shooting as well. His 12 points (3g, 9a) are second only to Jagr.

As for the defense, the depth that they built has paid off in a big way. Say what you’d like about Peter Harrold and Mark Fayne, but they’ve both been pressed into service with the injuries to Salvador and more recently, Anton Volchenkov and they’ve both held their own.

One of the biggest questions that is facing this team in the coming days will be what to do with Eric Gelinas. Though he’s had some “rookie moments” that are to be expected with a young defenseman, overall, he’s been a shot in the arm for this team. He shoots the puck well, to the point where he’s dangerous any time he winds up to fire the puck. His seven points (2g, 5a) in 12 games equates to roughly 48 points in an 82 game season. Yeah, that. Eric Gelinas

It hasn’t all been pretty. The team continues to struggle to score in front of Cory Schneider. I don’t really buy the whole idea that Brodeur’s playing of the puck makes THAT much of a difference in the team’s ability to score. A goal here and there? Sure, but not to the extent that the team has failed to score when No. 35 is in net. Despite that, both goaltenders have been excellent. Though it was shaky at first, the tandem has turned into exactly what they were hoped to be: a 1-2 punch that gives the Devils a strong goaltending performance every night.

Damien Brunner, who might have been the hottest Devil to start the season, has been struggling. He seems very much like the type of player that needs speed and space to make plays, something that isn’t exactly the norm in the Devils offense. He had a similar slump last season, as he started and finished hot, but struggled in the middle of the 48-game season.

Despite the deficiencies that still linger with this team, we’re beginning to see this squad come together. With so many games yet to play and a tough test on Thursday night in Los Angeles, it’s going to be a grind. This team is not built to blow people out. Every win is going to have to come by way of outworking the opponent and scoring some opportunistic goals. If the defense can continue to hold its own and if the offense begins to find it’s stride, then this team will begin to cement itself in the middle of the Metropolitan Division playoff picture.

Final Score: Kings 2, Devils 0

The Los Angeles Kings took down the New Jersey Devils 2-0 at the Prudential Center in the first meeting between the two teams since the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.  The loss drops the Devils to 6-8-5 on the season.

Dwight King scored on a deflection from a point shot by Jake Muzzin late in the 3rd period to give Los Angeles the lead that they would take to the end of the game.

- Patrik Elias’ return was a shot in the arm for the Devils on all fronts, but he failed to register a shot on goal and looked like he was at least one game away from getting his legs back under him.

- Corey Schneider put together a stellar effort despite another shortage of offensive support.  But, tonight belonged to Ben Scrivens, who recorded a 26-save shutout, his second shutout triumph this year.

Ryan Jahnke

The Devils have something good going right now, putting up a record of 3-0-1 in their last 4 games before facing LA.  Their defense has been suffocating and their goaltending has been among the league’s best, no matter who is between the pipes.  Their penalty kill is lights out, particularly at the Rock, where opponents have managed just one power play goal against the Devils (before tonight’s empty-netter).  So with all of this going so right for the team, their fans have just one question left… what is going on with the offense?

The Devils came into Friday night’s game against the Kings and strong backup goaltender Ben Scrivens as one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, and the first few periods did little to change that.  Great pressure and strong chances for New Jersey resulted in 18 shots and no goals through the first two.  Things were even worse for the red and black in the third.  Their legs were gone and their shots had dried up.  Los Angeles used this to their advantage and turned up the pressure on New Jersey, wearing the Devils down until finally recording what would be the game-winning goal on a strong screen and beautiful deflection by Dwight King.  A long empty-netter by Anze Kopitar sealed the deal and a regulation victory for the Kings.

The offense remains a problem for New Jersey.  The first period was one to be proud of as Jersey’s team thoroughly outplayed their opponents.  They worked especially hard in the L.A. zone, creating chances and crashing the net.  After that, things got ugly.  The Devils were outhit by a wide margin and gave the puck away more than three times as much as Los Angeles.

That’s not to say that there weren’t any bright spots from the New Jersey front men.  Jaromir Jagr, Adam Henrique and Danius Zubrus all put up strong efforts, and Andy Greene was a big playmaker tonight.  Unfortunately, the Devils always seemed a step behind the play as countless pucks slid through the crease without anyone in red there to bury them.

The defense and goaltending were dominant.  Cory Schneider did everything a goalie could do to win this game for his team, and the boys in front of him limited  opportunities.  One unfortunate stretch was their undoing, as the relentless Kings’ attack at the end of the game lured two Devils D-men to the side of the goal leaving Dwight King uncontested in front of Schneider.

This kind of game can take the wind out of a team’s sails.  The Devils came in talking about giving Schneider some goal support, and then get blanked at home.  With a lackluster third and an anemic power play to finish the game, the Devils left the ice with their heads hanging and the fans’ frustrations ringing in their ears.  It’ll be a tough test for the team tomorrow night as New Jersey looks to pick themselves up and rise to the challenge against Pittsburgh.  The Red and Black will need to play all three periods tomorrow like they did the first stanza tonight. Martin Brodeur will need to keep up his impressive streak of quality games, put the team back on track and make sure that they don’t lose the momentum that they had built up over the previous four games.