We’ll be doing a weekly mailbag article each week during the season, so if you have a question or comment, feel free to tweet us @SNYDevils or tweet Dave and Jeff directly @DevilsInsiders.
Jake Wakely – @NJDFan4Life – “Is it too big to say he (Gelinas) is like Shea Weber, that’s what he was compared to when he was drafted?”
(Dave)Though Eric Gelinas has a lot of potential, I think there is a big difference between being very good, and being Shea Weber. Weber is one of the best defensemen in the entire league. He hits, he’s positionally sound, and he’s a monster on the power play.
I believe that Gelinas will turn into a very serviceable NHL player, who will see a lot of minutes once his defensive game becomes more polished. The young blueliner showed what he can do with his shot in the preseason game against the Rangers. It seems like a bit much to compare him to Weber, but he has the potential to be a highly productive offensive defenseman that might top out with 45-point ability out of the back end.
Jonathan Harpula – @Statpula – Can our “interchangeable” forwards score enough for a playoff run? Will loss of Ilya = a Ewing-theory type revival?
(Dave)I love the Ewing theory reference. For those of you who don’t know, the Ewing theory is the idea that even though Patrick Ewing was a sensational player both with Georgetown and the New York Knicks, his team somehow always managed to play better when he was off the court.
This is a team without a big-time scorer. There isn’t anyone on this roster who can give you 40 goals, it’s just not going to happen. With that being said, I think this team will have four lines that are capable of scoring. The additions of Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe, Jaromir Jagr and Damien Brunner (if he makes the team) will definitely provide offense.
Realistically, this team will not be in the top half of the league in scoring, but I think that somewhere in the 16-20 range in goals scored is realistic. Though they lost Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, they replaced their 26 combined goals with 47 combined goals from the aforementioned offseason acquisitions. Of course, you can’t go comparing numbers as if they’re the end-all be-all, but at the very least, this a deeper team than they were last year.
Jonathan Harpula – @Starpula – Is Brunner the perfect signing to give Jagr and Elias periodic rests?
Travis Coolidge – @TimOconnor11 – Does Brunner make the team ?
I do think that Damien Brunner will make the team. He has the speed and playmaking ability to warrant a spot. Unless he really struggles in the preseason games, or they come to an impasse with a contract, Brunner should be a Devil in 2013-2014.
Brunner would be a great signing because he was a guy on pace to score approximately 20 goals last season over an 82-game span. The way the Devils are currently constructed, I’m not sure we know enough about the offense where Pete DeBoer will have the luxury of sitting Jagr or Elias just to get them a breather. If Henrique and Zajac continue their struggles into this year, PDB can’t afford to have his most experienced and productive guys watching from the stands.
Pat Kelly – Who do you see being the top 3 shootout players for the devils since Kovy and Clarkson are both gone? I see it being Elias, Henique, and Ryder?
(Dave) That’s a great question. The Devils squandered so many points in the shootout last season, so it’s an area that they have to be better at if they expect to push for a playoff spot.
I would think that Elias is a lock, but after that, things get cloudy. Damien Brunner has the highest percentage on the team, scoring twice in seven attempts. Looking at the statistics, this is an area where the Devils may struggle. They MUST be better in the shootout this year, there are too many important points at stake.
If I had to pick a shootout lineup right now, I’d go Elias, Zajac and Jagr, based on their stats and what i’ve seen from them. Zajac has a deceptively strong shot and Jagr is a wily veteran who can still get a goalie to bite on a fake.
Here are the statistics for current Devils during the shootout in 2012-2013:
Damien Brunner: 2 for 7 – 28.6%
Travis Zajac: 1 for 4 – 25%
Patrik Elias: 2 for 8 – 25%
Jaromir Jagr: 2 for 9 – 22.2%
Ryane Clowe: 0 for 3 – 0%
Adam Henrique: 0 for 2 – 0%
Andrei Loktionov: 0 for 1 – 0%
Michael Ryder: 0 for 1 – 0%
We received quite a few questions about the Carter-Gionta-Bernier line. With the amount of players fighting for roster spots, there is a chance that the line might be broken up.
Fabio Torres – @fabio_torres – With all the new players and young guns wanting a spot in the lineup, is the CBGB line on borrowed time?
Avid Devils Fan – @NJDMCP – Would you break up the CBGB line or scratch Josefson?
Jon Bouchard -You know I love Stephen Gionta- with the upswing of young talent for NJ (Boucher, Tedenby, Cislo, Zajac) and the addition of potentially strong offensive additions (Olesz)… is his job in jeopardy? Is someone else’s from CBGB?
Great question, guys. Personally, I’d break up the CBGB line to start the season. I’d put Jacob Josefson between Carter and Bernier. Lou Lamoriello and Pete DeBoer need to make one final evaluation of Josefson. Gionta is a known commodity at this point; he’s going to grind and hustle. He probably will get 8-10 goals at year at best. I’m not sure the Devils know what Josefson can be yet. While healthy last year, he logged the most PK time for any forward. He’s responsible in his own zone and has a good hockey sense. The offense just hasn’t come consistently. The Devils need to give him one last shot to squeeze whatever talent he has in him and try to salvage their first round draft pick from 2009.
It’s easier to forget he’s only 22 still, despite playing during the course of three seasons. It wouldn’t shock me if Gionta starts the season with the big club, comes in for Josefson 15 games into the season or 40 or maybe he even stays in the minors the whole year. I think Josefson should take Gionta’s spot not because Josefson is a better player; he’s not, Gionta has proved more valuable than him over the last two seasons. The reason Josefson should replace him is that the Devils still not what he can be and if he reaches somewhere close to that first round pick he is, he’s more valuable than Gionta.
If you didn’t watch the first 10 minutes of today’s game, you’d think it was one of the Devils’ best efforts all season. Despite that (very) sub-par start, the Devils once again managed to “turn it on” after Pete DeBoer’s timeout and just dominated the Panthers for the next 50 minutes. Some thoughts…
Wake-up call: The Pete DeBoer First Period Timeout should be sold in pharmacies across the country. It’s best wake-up call I think I’ve ever seen. Why the Devils continue to need it — especially in the throes of a desperate playoff chase — is beyond me, but it certainly is the magical elixir this roster covets. The Devils came out painfully slow and were lacking any sort of energy. The Panthers were skating circles around them, getting to every loose puck. Both of Florida’s goals were a result of out-efforting New Jersey, but that changed as soon as DeBoer called his infamous timeout. You could see him rotating his hand, signaling the Devils needed to pick up the energy. This wasn’t one of those “settle down” timeouts. This was the “well-time expletive” version and it worked. Boy did it work. It took a few minutes but before long New Jersey was all over Florida, like a train that takes time to build up speed and then all of sudden is barreling down the tracks at 80 miles per hour. I know I’ve spent some time cracking on the Devils for their slow starts this season and their reliance on the P.D.F.P.T. (we might need a better acronym), but at this point, a win is a win is a win.
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 forecheck was as strong as it had been all year.
Marek Zidlicky played his best game this season. The Devils outshot the Buffalo Sabres 39-22 and even scored a power-play goal.
Yet, all that still couldn’t translate into a win.
Such are the breaks for New Jersey these days. The Devils got a key point– No. 40– but fell to 0-6 in road shootouts in their 3-2 shootout loss to the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Steve Sullivan and Mark Fayne each scored goals for New Jersey, which fell to 0-3-4 in its last seven games. Sullivan’s was his first as a Devil since Feb. 15, 1997. Fayne’s was his first of this season and his first since Feb. 21 of last year.
Still it wasn’t enough as Ryan Miller made 37 saves to lift the Sabres within four points of the East’s final-playoff spot. Miller stopped all three shootout chances– including a stellar pad save on Patrik Elias’ attempt– to drop New Jersey to 0-6 in road shootouts this year.
The Devils will probably say the same things they said after Thursday and Saturday’s losses. They played well enough to win but didn’t catch the breaks. I can’t disagree, but that and 12 cents doesn’t buy you much this time of the year.
Zidlicky was outstanding all night.
He finished with five shots– which was tied with David Clarkson for the team high. He pinched at the right time most of the night, helping the Devils forecheck and dominate possession in Buffalo’s end for large pockets of time.
Zidlicky finished as a minus-1, he was stuck covering for Anton Volchenkov on Steve Ott’s second-period marker.
Jacob Josefson, playing in his first game in more than a month, was very good too. He showed great legs and energy and won a team-high 64 percent (9 of 14) of his faceoffs.
Like the rest of the team, Josefson unluckily finished as a minus player. He was on the ice for Patrick Kaleta’s first-period goal, which dropped him to a team-worst minus-11.
On Kaleta’s goal, Andy Greene had a dreadful shift. First, his blind pass turned the puck over to Jochen Hecht at the top of the circles. Then, Greene was beaten to the net mouth by Kaleta, as he redirected Hecht’s shot past Brodeur, giving Buffalo the 1-0 lead just 4:22 in.
The Devils appeared listless until that goal but pushed back after it, dominating the rest of the first. The Devils’ forecheck drew a boarding minor on Kevin Porter, then Sullivan struck– on a neat feed from Steve Bernier– tying the game at 1 at 18:20.
Sullivan’s power-play goal was New Jersey’s first in six games. The Devils finished 1-for-5 with the man advantage.
With New Jersey’s playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Dainius Zubrus came up big.
The Devils were trailing 2-1 and were shorthanded with less than 15 minutes left. Zubrus took the puck, weaved through four Sabres, and found Fayne at the top of the circles with a stellar pass. Fayne beat Miller stick side to tie the game.
Fayne’s mark also allowed New Jersey to score more than one goal for the first time in three games. The Devils had scored two goals in their previous three contests.
Though he stopped 13 fewer shots than his counterpart, Martin Brodeur was good in some key spots.
Brodeur stoned Drew Stafford’s chance on a two-on-one break in overtime, and he also thwarted Christian Ehrhoff’s point shot earlier in the extra session.
Brodeur nearly stopped Ott’s second-period goal, sliding and kicking his pads in the air. The puck appeared to hit Brodeur’s pad and trickle across the goal line.
Miller was great too though. The American-born netminder made key save after key save– his best coming on Bernier midway through the second, when he stoned Bernier’s low shot with his blocker.
He also gloved Travis Zajac’s final attempt in the shootout, sealing Buffalo’s win.
The Devils are now two points behind the Rangers and Islanders for the East’s No. 8 spot.
New Jersey will now sit back and hope for some help this week as it awaits its next game, Wednesday at home against Boston.
The Rangers are in Toronto Monday. The Isles will host Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Steve Sullivan won’t be available for the Devils tonight, instead traveling to New Jersey to undergo a routine physical and “get situated.” While coach Pete DeBoer doesn’t know exactly where he’ll use Sullivan at this point, he’s still a longtime admirer of the veteran winger — and he’s not the only one.
“I’ve always been a fan of is,” DeBoer said this morning in Boston, where the Devils will take on the Bruins tonight. “He’ll give us some speed, an offensive guy. I’ve got to try and find him some chemistry and with Kovy out I think he’ll be a nice burst of offense, hopefully, for us.”
Devils left wing Patik Elias said his first linemates when he joined the Albany River Rats in 1995-96 were Sullivan and Scott Pellerin. When I asked him if they were a good line, Elias replied, “The best line. We dominated.”
“Just skilled,” Elias said in describing the kind of player Sullivan is. “You saw the way he was (last season) in Pittsburgh. He’s a skilled player. He makes great plays, skates well. He’s great with the puck.”
This is obviously team-friendly spin and I’d expect nothing less from two people as steeped in the Devils’ M.O. as Elias and DeBoer. The question is where “spin” meets reality and how that translate into on-ice production. DeBoer doesn’t know where he’ll use Sullivan, but I’d guess a third-line role, possibly in place of a guy like Matt D’Agostini, who hasn’t really added much other than speed since joining the Devils’ lineup. It’s possible he could move up top to play alongside Andrei Loktionov until Ilya Kovalchuk returns but I don’t know if I buy that as a good idea. I like Elias with Loktionov and a big, physical grinder on the right side — a guy like Steve Bernier or David Clarkson. Perhaps you could put Sullivan on the second line with Travis Zajac, but I think he’d fit really well on the third line with Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique. You get a nice balance of skill and size, with some playmaking from both Henrique and Sullivan. When Kovy returns, it gives DeBoer the flexibility to move Clarkson, Bernier and Sullivan around the other three lines.
There’s two different ways you could look at tonight’s game: Disappointing or gutsy. During their first contest without Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils fought through in-game injuries to two game players and an awful to start to eek out a consolation point. They also played some good hockey in the second and third periods, although there were mistakes and they were clearly tired in overtime. Some thoughts…
One and one: One game without Kovalchuk, one point for the Devils. This is how it will have to be. Yes, they would’ve liked to have picked up the extra point and surely played like it in the third period, but any points are important given the state they’re in right now. If you’d like to be concerned, the Devils’ record in overtimes and shootouts is reason for worry. New Jersey has left a lot of points on the ice this season after excelling in extra hockey last season. Will it be the difference between eighth and ninth? Too early to tell, but for now the Devils simply have to do everything they can to stay stagnant (at worst) in the standings while Kovy is out. Tonight, the Devils managed to overcome a dreadful start and seemingly woke up after being undressed by Pete DeBoer during a first-period timeout. The gears didn’t really begin to turn until the second when Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique had some impressive shifts as DeBoer mixed and matched forwards given his limited bench. Over the final two periods, the Devils looked like a good hockey team that couldn’t finish — which is what they’ve looked like for stretches this season. Except there’s no Kovy coming in to seal the deal with a rocket from the point or a perfect pass across the ice. Make no mistake, this is what the Devils will look like for the next two weeks. They could play very inspired hockey game in and game out and it will still be a challenge to score goals.
Seriously? More injuries?: I’m not going to overreact to Bryce Salvador and Stephen Gionta leaving the game early tonight. We don’t know anything about them other than the general area (lower for Salvador, upper for Gionta). DeBoer says they haven’t seen the doctor yet but will travel with the team to Tampa Bay, where the Devils play Friday. The good news is that Salvador’s injury isn’t connected to the upper-body ailment that caused him to miss a game earlier this month. After Salvador missed a game against the Canes, he admitted he would have to play through the pain and deal with the injury and my first thought tonight was that he aggravated whatever that injury was. Instead, it looks like a separate issue, which is just further evidence of how the bangs and bruises will add up through this short season. We said before the year that there would be plenty of injuries for the teams to deal with, but this is starting to feel like a bit of an onslaught. It’s also what happens when a large chunk of your team is veterans with a lot of miles on their bodies. I’m not saying these injuries could’ve been avoided, but look at the players who have hit the IR this season and then take a look at their ages. That’s not a coincidence. Gionta’s a bit of the exception. Despite being 29, he’s spent most of pro hockey career outside of the NHL. He’s also the one player among these two whose absence I believe would hurt the most. Yes, Salvador is the captain and a reliable piece on defense, but the Devils have eight NHL-caliber defensemen and can get by without him for a time. Gionta? First of all, he’s one of the few true right wings the Devils have right now, which, as we’re seeing with the Kovy injury, is a pretty big deal. Two, he’s one of the few players who pretty much plays his role every time he’s out on the ice. The Devils need his energy and effort on the forecheck, especially with Kovy, Zubrus and Ponikarovsky on IR. If Gionta is out for any long period of time, I’m not sure there’s really a player to replace what he brings to the table.
Forced trios: The one thing Gionta’s injury did force DeBoer to do is get real funky with his line combos again and I think he might have stumbled into a winner. When Gionta first didn’t come out for the second period, DeBoer tried Adam Henrique in between Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. It was a solid shift, but the next time the remaining two-thirds of the CBGB line hit the ice it was with Andrei Loktionov in the middle. In fact, it was on that shift that the Devils scored their first goal of the night with Carter taking the draw and Loktionov lined up to the left. DeBoer stuck with the trio for most of the rest of the game with Carter taking most of the draws and Loktionov playing the middle for the most part. I liked the immediate chemistry between them and I also like how Loktionov was able to play off Carter and Bernier’s physical in-the-corners and in-your-face style. If DeBoer wanted to leave Loktionov there, he could use Henrique to center the “top” line with D’Agostini (who was invisible tonight) and possibly Pesonen until Ponikarovsky comes back. It would allow DeBoer to get Henrique away from the wing, which clearly does not suit him and where DeBoer is incredibly loathe to use him.
No power: The one place we knew the Devils would struggle without Kovy was the power play. Although the Devils only had one opportunity with the man advantage against Ottawa, it certainly wasn’t pretty. There were multiple turnovers, multiple breakaways (by the Sens) and a general sense of discombobulation and confusion. Basically, the Devils didn’t have any sort of “alpha dog” to take over the two minutes and run plays from start to finish. We hypothesized earlier that it’s possible the Devils will use this time to morph into a better overall power-play unit because they won’t be relying on one player — and that’s still possible. It’s impossible to judge anything about this unit without Kovy after just one game let alone one power play, but what I will say is I don’t have a ton of faith that they’ll suddenly start humming 30-plus games into the season. The best option for them now is to spend as much time trying to fire pucks at the net and hoping for rebounds and mismatches in front or for deflections.
Notes: Martin Brodeur did not have his A-game tonight. That was obvious from the Senators’ very first goal. He gave up far too many rebounds and it finally cost him on that late goal in the second period. Devils aren’t going to win many games these next two weeks if Marty doesn’t bring his top game every night. … Second straight game with a goal in the final seconds of a period. Those kinds of goals are absolute killers. Have to hope that’s a blip on the radar and not a trend. … How many posts was that tonight? I think my ears are still ringing. … Zajac played a strong game once again but that giveaway on the power play was awful. … If there’s one thing I noticed tonight it’s that the Senators have a lot of skill and a lot of depth up front despite the injuries. Guillaume Latendresse is a shining example. I’m really surprised he didn’t have about two or three goals tonight with the way he played. … Not sure whether it was David Clarkson fight or DeBoer’s intermission speech that got the Devils fired up, but Clarkson really handled Zach Smith in that fight. … A fifth-round pick for Loktionov. Just throwing that out there again. … What a game for Marek Zidlicky, eh? All over the ice, single-handedly tied the game and a sound one in his own end. Impressive night for Zids. … Clarkson has GOT to start burying some of these shots. He’s getting far too many opportunities compared to the goals he’s scoring. … The Devils looked exhausted in OT, just completely spent. If the injuries to Salvador and Gionta are of decent severity, it’s only a matter of time before that catches up to New Jersey. … A few shootout notes: 1) Daniel Alfredsson’s snap shot is absurdly good. 2) It’s almost as good as that move Mika Zibanejad put on Brodeur for the game winner. 3) Could Kyle Turris have gone any slower? 4) Why do we still have the shootout?
After missing the entire third period last night, Alexei Ponikarovsky was not present at Wednesday’s practice. His injury, along with the return of Andrei Loktionov to practice, forced Pete DeBoer to use some line combinations we’ve seen before.
Devils' lines today: Henrique-Loktionov-Kovalchuk; Elias-Zajac-Clarkson; Carter-Gionta-Bernier; Barch-Sestito-Kostopoulos.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) March 20, 2013
I’m sure many Devils fans are happy to see the return of the CBGB line, although all of this was necessitated by the injuries to Ponikarovsky and Dainius Zubrus. Once those two return, unless the Devils want Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac or Loktionov to center the fourth line (they don’t), then I wouldn’t expect that line to appear except for certain points when DeBoer maybe wants to give the whole team a spark. Also, DeBoer really dislikes using Henrique on the wing and only uses him there when he has to. Assuming Poni isn’t seriously hurt, I’d expect him to return to that spot until Zubrus is healthy, at which point all bets are off in terms of line combos. We’ll have to see how serious the injury to Ponikarovsky is later today once DeBoer addresses the media. If he’s out for tomorrow’s game, I’d be willing to bet these are the lines we’ll see against Carolina.
Wins don’t get much bigger than that. The Devils desperately needed a “W” before tonight’s game and it became even more crucial considering the sterling effort they got from Johan Hedberg. As bad as last night was, tonight was a strong, strong effort across the board. Some thoughts…
Moose call: Honestly, that game shouldn’t have even gone to overtime. While the Evander Kane goal (Holy shit, what a shot) was unavoidable and basically unstoppable, the Mark Stuart score only happened because Andy Greene had brain fart and tried to play a bouncing puck about a foot in front of Hedberg. If you look on the replay, Hedberg was in perfect position to stop Stuart’s shot and likely would have. Now, does that mean the Jets wouldn’t have scored another time and forced OT regardless? No, but I use it to point out that Hedberg was about as iron-clad as goalies get, especially backup goalies. Moose had probably his second-best game since taking over the full-time gig and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Devils needed this game in every sense of the word and their goalie delivered. Hedberg doesn’t need to play this well every night, but the Devils do need his play to be close to what they’ve gotten in two of the last three games. The most impressive thing I saw from Moose tonight was how he stayed calm and didn’t get overwhelmed or downtrodden after the Stuart goal. We’ve seen him in past games (Saturday night in particular) give up goals in bunches after the defense lets him down or a bad bounce leads to a goal. Tonight, however, he bounced right back and got better as the game went on. He was the absolute reason the game didn’t end before OT and he was the reason they won in a shootout. This was very much a goaltender duel and in the end, Hedberg made a couple more saves when it was necessary. Impressive, indeed. Necessary — absolutely. Now, let’s see if he can do it two games in a row.
Movin’ on up: If Hedberg was the best part about tonight’s game, the aggressive defense was easily No. 2. Whether it was Marek Zidlicky attacking the net and taking the puck deep or Anton Volchenkov trying to finish an odd-man rush, the Devils’ defensemen were constantly jumping up and getting involved in the offensive zone. It was truly a five-man attack for the Devils tonight, which is huge for a team that has to rely on secondary scoring and has to manufacture offense. This defensive corps is never going to be confused with an “offensive-minded unit,” but they can be a part of the secondary and tertiary scoring. As we saw tonight, when Zidlicky or Larsson or Volchenkov get up in the play, it helps the Devils get the puck deep. Once they have the puck deep, the Devils’ forwards take over and begin to grind out possessions and get pucks on net. It’s like a machine in the sense that one cog starts turning and that cog’s momentum turns the next cog, which turns the next cog and so on and so forth until you get periods like the first 20 minutes tonight. Again, I’m not saying this is something we should expect every night, but againt a team like the Jets, it’s a useful tool that can help the Devils gain an advantage.
Deep impact: When was the last time you saw the Devils forecheck like that? A month ago? I don’t know what Pete DeBoer and company said to the Devils’ forwards before the game tonight, but it was almost like watching a different team out there. From the very jump they were generating chance after chance after chance by just throwing the puck in deep and out-working the Jets behind the net and along the walls. It was an impressive and dedicated display, spear-headed by the Devils’ new third line of Ryan Carter, Travis Zajac and Steve Bernier. Easily the best line of the night, that trio scored the Devils’ first goal and also combined for eight shots on goal (although it felt like they had more). Even more impressive was the fact that Zajac was around the puck in an active sense more than I’ve seen him since the first week of the season. Although I still think he’s pressing a bit, he had several legitimate scoring chances and was all over the offensive zone for much of the game. If Bernier and Carter, who has been the Devils’ best offensive player since returning from a concussion, can get Zajac going, the Devils could rip off a few wins in a row here.
Two of three: If the Devils lost tonight, Thursday’s win would’ve been lumped into a lengthy losing streak. Instead, the Devils can now say they’ve won two of their last three and were tripped up in a game that got away from them during a sleepy second period Saturday night. What was most refreshing to me was to see the Devils play with urgency for basically the entire game, which is something I haven’t seen all season before tonight. The Devils knew they needed to win this game and they came out and ground out a strong all-round effort despite not getting any offense from their top weapons. And they did it after being completely run out of the building the night before in Carolina. And in their fifth game in the last seven days. And against a team that’s completely had their number this season. That, to me, is the sign of an excellent coaching staff. DeBoer was able to pick the team up despite a depressing loss last night and get them to play with energy and urgency for 65 minutes. That’s impressive and representative of one of the few advantages the Devils do have over other NHL teams. DeBoer is one of the best coaches in the league and the Devils are incredibly lucky to have him. Not many coaches could’ve gotten their team to do a complete 180 in less than 24 hours like he did tonight.
Notes: No matter how much crap we give Volchenkov about his slow feet or occasional ineptitude in his own end, that man is one tough S.O.B. He’s a shot-blocking machine and no matter how many pucks hit him, he’s usually right back out for his next shift. Tonight, he took a slap shot in the back (where there’s no padding) and then another off the foot, which necessitated X-rays that were thankfully negative. That’s one of the big reasons DeBoer prefers to have him in the lineup. … Look at how helpful scoring that first goal can be. While the Devils have had strong first periods in the past week, they’ve been undone by a bad goal or a breakdown within those 20 minutes. Tonight, they got the first goal, which created a wave of momentum, which led to the second goal, and by the time the Jets got their goal off a bad bounce, the Devils were still ahead and continued to press forward. … Speaking of that first goal, I know I said it above, but you gotta leave that puck alone Andy. Jeez. … I hope Dustin Byfuglien never leaves Winnipeg, if only so we can forever call him “The Jumbo Jet.” … Speaking of Byfuglien, what a terrible angle he took on that Stephen Gionta goal. He showed no respect for the little man’s speed and skating ability. Respect the little man! … Zajac may not be scoring, but he wins faceoffs like it’s his job. Oh, wait… … Chico Resch made a great point at the start of the second period. The Devils set the pace tonight and by setting the pace of the game, they didn’t allow the Jets to get their game going until late in the period. By then, the Devils had clearly established the momentum in their favor and allowed Hedberg to settle in. … Ondrej Pavelec played really well tonight, but was let down by a defensive corps that couldn’t handle the Devils’ forecheck. The stats say he only faced 27 shots, but there was a lot more pressure than that from New Jersey. … That pressure was one of the more impressive parts of tonight’s game. It seemed like every time the Devils got within three feet of Pavelec they were firing the puck on net. That’s a great way to manufacture goals. … Evander Kane, on the other hand, doesn’t need to manufacture anything. His goal — WOW. What an unbelievable talent he is. … Sick move by Elias on the SO winner. Not many goalies stop that one.
Hedberg fell to 2-2-1 this season, as New Jersey surrendered four third-period goals in its 5-1 loss to the Caps on Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center.
Alex Ovechkin recorded a hat trick– his 11th career three-goal game– and Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer each scored third-period goalus as Washington improved to 6-10-1.
Ilya Kovalchuk potted New Jersey’s only goal– his second straight game with a goal. The Devils fell to 10-4-4.
New Jersey’s much-maligned penalty kill struggled against Saturday.
I’m tired of harping on it, but as long as it’s a story line, we have to bring it up. The Caps’ power play– which is second in the league, scoring at a 28.8 percent clip– added two more man-advantage goals in three tries Saturday. Washington was 4-for-7 against New Jersey in this two-game road-and-road stretch.
You can make the argument that the Devils have to stay out of the box, but penalties are inevitable. New Jersey’s got to kill them better.
Each of Ovechkin’s goals were vintage Ovi.
His first came off a stellar pass from Mike Ribeiro, which Ovechkin roofed past Hedberg, putting Washington ahead at 5:20 of the second.
On Ovechkin’s second, he fielded a great pass from Matt Hendricks, used Anton Volchenkov as a screen and snapped a shot by Hedberg. On his third, he one-timed Ribeiro’s pass into the yawning net to clinch the hat trick.
Ovechkin was Washington’s best player Thursday, — evidently his fiance Maria Kirilenko has been in attendance during both games which could explain his inspired play — and his game is clearly coming back. Southeast Conference beware.
Hedberg has now lost two consecutive Saturdays by identical 5-1 scores.
The games were eerily similar too: close affairs until late the late-middle stages of the game, then a barrage of goals– including a flurry on the power play– breaks the game open late.
Both games also even featured the opposing team’s marquee player record hat tricks.
New Jersey has now scored just nine goals in Hedberg’s five starts this year.
Hedberg was good, although his misplay did lead to Fehr’s back-breaking shorthanded goal. Hedberg drifted behind the net, then veered away from the puck, expecting Andy Greene to pick it up, and Eric Fehr scooped up the loose change, making it 3-1 Caps.
New Jersey fell to 2-2-1 in afternoon games.
Both of New Jersey’s afternoon regulation losses were flat, 5-1 road losses. The Devils fell to 0-1-1 in afternoon contests this week.
It appears the Devils prefer to play at night, which is good because the Devils have only two more afternoon games on the schedule the rest of the year.
Andrei Loktionov looked like New Jersey’s best player.
The fourth-line center assisted on Kovalchuk’s goal and was one of the few plus-Devils registering a plus-1 rating.
Loktionov also spent some time centering the Devils’ top line, subbing for the slumping Travis Zajac.
The game did turn in the second period when Braden Holtby made his biggest save.
After Tom Poti hauled down Steve Bernier, Bernier was awarded a penalty shot. Holtby dropped his right pad, stopping Bernier’s five-hole attempt, keeping Washington ahead 1-0.
The Devils were on a power play at the time, and if the penalty shot was not called, New Jersey could have had a 5-on-3 advantage.
Instead, the Devils came up short. Sounds par for the course Saturday.
New Jersey will host Winnipeg for the first time this year, Sunday at 5 p.m.
I’ll be at the game. Follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the day.
Pat Pickens is a New Jersey native and lifelong Devils fan. Follow him on Twitter here.