Just hours away from the New Jersey Devils playing the Los Angeles Kings in the Prudential Center, mixed feelings are abound.
The Kings and Devils squared off in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, with the Kings winning the series and the Stanley Cup 4-2. As a fan, it’s hard to still not be disappointed with the outcome.
I was at Game One of the series and I will always remember that odd man rush late in the third period where Mark Fayne was breaking down the slot, had the puck coming his way and couldn’t push the biscuit into an open net. We’ll never know what would have happened, but that could have completely changed the outlook of the series.
It was tough not to feel helpless after Game Two. Ilya Kovalchuk hit the crossbar in the final seconds and it felt like the longer the game kept going, the lesser their chances were at tying the series. The Devils worked so hard to get each goal in those first two games and when Jeff Carter scored on such a seemingly harmless play, everyone’s heart sank. They played much better in Game Three but the Kings buried all of their chances, putting the Devils on the brink.
I’ll remember the way they fought back, though. They finally had a lead in Game Four, but it lasted all of one minute. It was hard not to think it was over at that point. The Kings could do no wrong. When Adam Henrique scored though, it gave life to the fanbase. If NJ could defend their home ice, all they had to do was win one more game in LA and they could be Stanley Cup Champs. The sight of Zach Parise scoring the opening goal in Game Five, letting out a primal scream and pounding the boards with his hand will always have a place in my mind. So will the memory of Bryce Salvador pumping his fist after his fourth goal of the playoffs.
I’ll remember the run up to that point. Game Six certainly went to the wayside, but it was a great season. Coming off a year where they missed the playoffs, it was an unexpected ride to the Finals, which made it all the more enjoyable. Finally getting that first round monkey off their back in sudden death fashion, dominating the rivals from Pennsylvania and the Henrique winner against New York provided moments that Devils fans won’t soon forget.
I’ll remember getting to hear Doc Emrick’s voice every night. It was a shock to all Devils fans when he stepped away from the Prudential Center microphone after the 2010-11 season. After hearing he would still do national games, I half-jokingly said to a friend of mine, “Well, we’ll just have to get to the Stanley Cup Finals so Doc will call all our games”. Turns out we got it a round earlier as well with Emrick calling the Rangers series. I’ll always appreciate that because he was and always will be the voice of the New Jersey Devils.
Yes, we are reminded of disappointment when we see the Los Angeles Kings take the ice tonight in Newark but we should also reflect on the great moments in that series and recall the wonderful memories that led up to that point.
The New Jersey Devils fell to the Minnesota Wild 4-0 at XCel Energy Center on Sunday night. The loss drops the Devils to 3-7-4 on the season.
- In the first game against his old team, Zach Parise had an assist and drew the penalty that led to the Wild’s third goal.
- 47 percent of the shots came from Devils defensemen tonight.
- The Devils have not scored a goal in 149:06. Their last goal was in the second period against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
- Jon Merrill left the game a few minutes into his NHL debut. On his second shift, he was run into the boards and suffered what the team called “lacerations” in his eye area. He did not return.
Pick any place to start and this was an all-around disappointing game.
Let’s begin with the offense. This team produced simply nothing upfront. They had 19 shots as a team. Only 10 of them came from the forwards. That’s inexcusable, even if you have some gunners on your blue line. Sure, some of that is from Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac being out. There’s enough talent on this team, however, to get a puck or two in the net. They’re not throwing hacks and first-game rookies on the ice. With these two guys out, it’s time for the Devils to load up their top two lines and live with two bottom lines who likely won’t produce anything. Since it takes this team a while to get some chemistry, you might as well live and die with your top players getting the most ice time.
The defense needs to start standing up and playing physical. I get it, they had to ride most of the game with only five defensemen, but the first two goals were the direct result of not clearing the front of the net. Besides Anton Volchenkov, who was out tonight, not many guys on this team throw a hit. In fact, I would say the next most physical guy on the team is Marek Zidlicky. Frightening. Apparently, these guys are also supposed to carry the load offensively as they took 47 percent of the team’s shots tonight. The forwards need to help out a bit here.
This was a tough one to take. If they lose, fine, understandable. Minnesota is a good team. Shut out with only 19 shots on goal after being blanked on 14 shots on home ice the night before to a divisional rival that had only two wins? Dreadful. Well, now they get three days off (again) before they take on those same Flyers on Thursday night. These team is going to have its peaks and valleys, since the roster was assembled in pathwork fashion. We know that.
It’s easy for fans to still be mad at old No. 9, even an entire year since he left. The fact is, there are some who will never forgive Zach Parise for going back to his home state of Minnesota to play with the Wild.
It was almost as bad as breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend for some. He was a sensational player who brought tenacity, skill and scoring ability to this team like none other before.
Well, it’s been long enough since the break-up right? Let’s take a look at some of Zach’s best moments as a New Jersey Devil.
October 5, 2005 – Sidney Crosby’s and Zach’s first game and the first game after the lockout
Opening night of 2005 was the first ever regular season game for Sidney Crosby. For all of the hoopla surrounding him, it was also the beginning of the Penguins ascension right? Well, not on that night. Sid the Kid was out-dueled by another young player in his first-ever game. Parise had a power play goal and an assist on the power play to help New Jersey to a 5-1 win.
There was always a sort of rivalry between Parise and Crosby. Sid was the one everybody talked about, but Zach was putting up good numbers as well. The Devils had the Penguins number towards the end of Zach’s tenure in NJ and that was definitely part of his doing.
February 26, 2009 – Zach scores a gorgeous goal in Martin Brodeur’s return from injury
In terms of the goal itself, this might be my personal favorite goal by Parise. This game was important, because it was Martin Brodeur’s first game after missing a large chunk of the season due to injury. Brodeur himself was excellent, but the offense put on a show as well. Zach’s goal in the third period helped to cement the 4-0 win over the Avalanche, after his nifty move beat Andrew Raycroft. He muscled past a defender to get to the net and finished with a sensational move.
January 9, 2010- Zach’s overtime winner against the Montreal Canadiens
A broken stick, a broken play and an overtime winner for No. 9. With the game tied 1-1 in overtime, Parise broke his stick in the defensive zone and the Canadians almost scored to put it away. After Parise retreated to the bench to fetch a new twig, he saw an opening and was calling for the puck in the neutral zone. The pass got there and Zach corralled it to score a gorgeous goal and give the Devils the win. That was the kind of play we were treated to from time to time, a great effort that began with a heads-up play and with a flash, the game was over and the Devils had won.
February 28, 2010 – Olympic gold medal game
I still believe that this was the most entertaining game I’ve ever watched. Star players on both sides of the ice and an incredible game for the gold medal against Canada. Whether you’re American, Canadian, or just a fan of hockey, this was about as close to a picture-perfect hockey game as you can get. When Zach banged home a rebound with 24 seconds left in the third period, the entire country began to embrace the game of hockey. People who don’t ever watch this wonderful game were watching. Hell, even Ranger fans had to root for Zach at that juncture. Sure, we know how the game ended, (thanks for ruining it, Sid) but this was a moment where Devils fans were so proud of not only their country, but of Zach Parise. It made it that much sweeter when he scored, being that it was a Devil who did it.
Shootouts- pretty much any time over his Devils career
Zach was a master of the shootout. In fact, I’d say that if there is any area where this team misses him, it’s in the shootout. He was spectacular, mainly due to the fact that he wasn’t a guy with just one move. He’d switch it up with ease. Whether it was a nice forehand to backhand shelf, or a deke that left the goalie scrambling, he was a huge reason why the Devils were so good in the shootout in 2011-2012, which ultimately led to their playoff positioning as so.
When the Devils skate against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday, i’m sure there will be plenty of Devils fans who cringe every time he touches the puck. Though it’s totally valid to have some hatred for Parise, lets also remember how much he did for this club. You hate him, because you loved him so much here in New Jersey. I’m certainly not advocating that anyone should root for him, but just remember the magical moments he gave this team.
As I mentioned before, think of Zach as an old girlfriend/boyfriend. Sure, it stings for a while, but years later, when you’re content with what you currently have, you can remember the great moments.
The last time the Devils were in the midst of a lengthy losing streak, Pat Pickens and I got together and debated whether the Devils were in real trouble. Pat was a little more optimistic than me, although we both saw a chance for redemption. Then Ilya Kovalchuk got hurt and the Devils went off the rails. With eight games left, Pat and I faced a simple questions: Will the Devils make the playoffs? What follows is a quick answer to that question followed by a debate over why it happened, how to fix it and whether Pete DeBoer should be part of the solution or on the chopping block.
This one hurts as much as a Zdeno Chara slapshot to the wrist. While the rival (and eighth-place) Rangers won in a shootout to move four points head of the Devils, New Jersey lost what felt like a microcosm of their entire season. There was the awful start, injuries to key players affecting the team and the Devils coming up just short of a tie game and a guaranteed point in overtime. Like I said, this one hurts. Some thoughts…
Fragile: It’s a word Pete DeBoer used to describe his team after the Devils allowed three early goals despite the Bruins taking four penalties in five minutes AND Martin Brodeur stopping a penalty shot. It seemed a wildly appropriate description for a team that has been known to cave at the end of periods, surrender goals in bunches and lose their heads in their own zone. There’s a reason why the Devils always seem to play better after DeBoer calls a timeout. He can read whether they need a kick in the ass or a moment to breathe and then suddenly, they look like a different team. It happened tonight and it’s happened countless other times this season. The team’s psyche is fragile and they don’t have enough extraordinarily talented players on the roster to carry them through rough patches. Without Ilya Kovalchuk, it’s a collection of “guys” — some with high-quality talent, but most without. A “fragile” team combined with a limited roster is a bad combination and it’s why they’ve gone one two very bad losing streaks this season. This is not a team that can answer the bell and fight through adversity, which is so strange since it’s nearly the same team as last year’s that basically made adversity its 24th man on the bench. THIS is where we’re seeing and feeling the loss of Zach Parise, who’s attitude, work ethic and willingness to buy in no matter what would drive the Devils through difficult times. Maybe Travis Zajac or Adam Henrique will get there some day, but they’re not there now.
The Devils will host Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time this year.
Who: Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils When: 7:00 p.m. ET; Pregame show at 6:30 p.m. ET Where: Prudential Center, Newark Media:TV - MSG+ (Channel listings); Radio - THE ANSWER (970AM) Twitter:@Pat_Pickens
Stats & Notes (via Devils PR)
New Jersey enters tonight’s game on a five-game losing streak (0-1-3). Tonight, the Devils are looking to avoid tying their season-high six-game losing stretch (0-5-1, February 23-March 5).
Thursday night at Boston, New Jersey fell to 3-12-5 on the year when allowing the first goal. The Devils are 12-1-4 when scoring the first goal this season.
Also Thursday, the Devils were shut out for the first time this season & for the first time since March 13, 2012 at Philadelphia.
The Devils posted a season high 40 shots on goal Thursday at Boston (previously, 37, February 21 at Washington, in a 3-2 win).
New Jersey dropped both games (0-1-1) at Prudential Center to Toronto last season, but is 21-14-10 vs. the Leafs at home all-time.
Steve Sullivan was acquired in a trade from the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday and is looking to become the 24th player to be re-acquired and play for the Devils.
Sully’s Return: For the first time in more than 16 years, Steve Sullivan will lace up the skates as a New Jersey Devil. I’d expect to see big things from Sullivan on New Jersey’s top line. It’s no stretch to call Sullivan a poor man’s Zach Parise, and the Devils have been lacking that hunger and nose-for-the-net that guys like Parise and Sullivan bring. Look for the 5-8 forward to wreck havoc.
SCORE FIRST!: You see the stat above. Do the math. If the Devils are 3-12-5 when they allow the first goal, that means they are 12-1-4 when they score first. The first goal means everything, especially tonight when trying to break a five-game losing streak.
Cool Kadri: The last time New Jersey met the Maple Leafs, Nazem Kadri was the difference maker, as the 22-year old scored once and assisted on another in Toronto’s 4-2 win. Kadri leads the Leafs with 39 points, but he’s only recorded four in Toronto’s last four games– and they all came in the Leafs’ 4-0 win over Ottawa on March 30. With Joffrey Lupul out, slowing Kadri becomes even more important for the Devils. Slow Kadri, beat Toronto.
Playoff Hockey: The Devils may have 11 games left, but they need to play every one of those desperately. New Jersey’s played lackadaisically against inferior opposition but looked good against the highly-touted Bruins Thursday. Toronto is above them in the standings, but I’d expect to see the Devils come out blazing on their home ice in a huge game tonight.
If you can play better in a loss, I’d like to see it. OK, maybe if you scored some goals, but I’m not sure how much more the Devils could’ve done tonight. They dominated puck possession, neutralized the Bruins’ offense and put tons of pucks on net — all to come up with nothing. Even worse, with the way things are unfolding around the East, they’ve fallen out of the playoff picture for now. Not a good night, to say the least. Some thoughts…
Everything but the kitchen sink: The Devils did it all tonight. They threw pucks at the net, they deked the Bruins out of their jocks (Andy Greene says “Hi” Shawn Thornton) and they had Tuukka Rask running all around his crease. Yet, at the end of the day, it was a zero on the scoreboard. While I’ve spent countless posts here lamenting the Devils’ lack of a finisher, never was it more apparent than tonight. Say the Devils didn’t get “puck luck” and I’ll say you’re being naive. Tell me the Devils should’ve scored four times tonight and I’ll respond, “But they didn’t.” None of this is to say the Devils played poorly in the offensive end; it was quite the opposite. The Devils did so many things well tonight, reducing the Bruins (arguably the second-best team in the East) to nothing more than partners in an optional skate. But the one thing they didn’t do outweighs all the positive because this time of the year isn’t about “building.” Just like coffee, April is for closers, which is one thing the Devils have been woefully lacking since January 19. There’s no relying on Ilya Kovalchuk’s return. It’s not coming “anytime soon,” according to Pete DeBoer. That means “future Hall of Famer” Patrick Elias, “budding power forward” David Clarkson and promising young centers Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique need to start putting pucks into the net. Devils fans ask if this team can make a run like last season but tonight was 60 minutes worth of reasons why they might not even get the chance.
Perfect opportunity: The worst part of tonight’s loss was they wasted a wonderful performance by Marty Brodeur. No, he wasn’t tested a lot — the Bruins’ 26 shots felt more like 16 — but he was spectacular when he needed to be and solid when he didn’t. The Devils wasted a performance they’re not likely to get more than once or twice every few weeks. Brodeur’s sliding skate save in the final minutes of the third period somehow kept the puck out of the net, much like the right post did moments later. But that’s the thing about vintage Marty, when he’s on his game, so are the metal pipes surrounding him. The pipes seem to be more friend than foe when Brodeur is playing at a high level, giving Marty three extra appendages like some freakish hockey version of Doc Ock. Unfortunately, the only thing Marty gets for his stellar evening is a boost to his goals against average and save percentage, all while the one stat the Devils didn’t need continue to add up. The losses keep coming, whether Brodeur is on his game or off. That should be a terrifying thought for the Devils and their fans.
Looking up: The Devils are frustrated. You can see it by the repeating image of heads jerking back, eyes agape at yet another blown chance. When the Devils aren’t staring blankly from their bench, they’re pointing their gazes upwards, almost begging some higher power to reward their hard work. Except when you build a team that’s counting on fourth-line wingers to play third-line minutes and asking a second-year player to go from ROTY candidate to All-Star, all while hoping that an out-of-nowhere 30-goal season somehow repeats itself — well, you get the 2013 Devils. They score four goals when everything seems to be clicking, until the Lightning score in the final seconds and it all goes to shit. DeBoer spent the first weeks of the season talking about how overtime losses weren’t ideal but were good enough. They needed all the points they could gather, he said. He was partly right. Can you imagine where the Devils would be right now if not for that roaring start? Injuries are part of the problem, but so is not adding any legitimate secondary scoring either last summer or during the first few weeks of the season. The Devils will continue to hit the post and the crossbar. They’ll continue to flub shots and watch the puck hit the outside of the net. It’s not because they’re not getting scoring chances. It’s because the players on the roster aren’t good enough to finish those chances. This isn’t necessarily an issue with coaching or system, although those have both been issues at separate points this season. This is an issue with the flawed construction of a roster that left the team with too many shortcomings to overcome injuries or regressions from the few players talented enough to help replace Zach Parise’s scoring and offensive presence. So the Devils will likely keep looking up at the ceiling, perhaps even in the locker room on baggie day, which will come a lot earlier than last year’s.
Crazy 8 (plus 3): Don’t look now, but the Flyers are two points behind the Devils, who are in ninth with 39 points after tonight’s loss and the Islanders’ (40 points) overtime loss. The team that beat the Isles, the Capitals (yes, the Capitals we all counted out weeks ago) have 38 points and are sitting in third place The Jets, who also have 38 points, are in 10th based on tiebreakers and the Rangers, meanwhile, are in 8th with 39 points and at least one game in hand on most of their playoff competitors. If you’re starting to feel tight around the collar, it’s a feeling you share with the Devils. Things are getting tight in the bottom third of the Eastern Conference playoff chase and the Devils have more in common with teams careening out of the picture than they do with those moving on up. The good news for New Jersey? Of the Devils’ remaining 11 games, two are against teams currently out of the playoff picture (Panthers, Sabres) and three come against teams they’re directly competing with (Rangers 2x, Flyers). The bad news? The Flyers and Rangers might be hitting their stride and the quickest way to fall out of the playoff chase is to lose those oh-so-special “four-point games.” That’s not even mentioning the games remaining against the Bruins, Senators, Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Penguins. The point being the Devils neutralized the team with the second-most points in the East tonight, yet still fell in the standings. What happens when they lay an egg?
Notes: I’m not quite sure how Bryce Salvador got back out on the ice tonight. He could barely tough his leg to the ice after that hip check in the first few minutes, yet was back on the bench before the 10-minute mark for the first and took a shift minutes later. He is way more banged up than the Devils are letting on. … Andrei Loktionov was shot out of a cannon tonight, but that he was (arguably) the Devils’ top center tonight is one of the problems, not the solution. I’m a huge Loktionov fan, but he should be playing third- or (maybe) second-line minutes — not carrying the top line that’s already missing its best player. … The Devils’ response to the Bruins’ goal was one of the better responses they’ve had to going down 1-0 this season, which is saying something because, you know, they’ve given up the first goal alot this season. … Speaking of which, guys like Jaromir Jagr have all the (puck) luck, right? … The David Krejci line was pretty much the only one that put consistent pressure on the Devils tonight. They had some shifts and I was actually surprised they didn’t score. … Remember that “jerking head motion after a missed goal” thing I talked about? David Clarkson is the poster boy. I’m surprised he hasn’t missed time with whiplash. … How desperate is DeBoer for an answer? He reunited the CBGB line for a key shift late in the third period. The fourth line. I enjoy watching those guys play, but should they be the ones you go to for an answer? … The Devils’ frustration came to a head with about 4 minutes left in the third when the Devils were looking for penalties on three successive shifts. In fact, they showed Steve Bernier on the bench a minute-plus later still complaining to a teammate about the call he didn’t get.
Why are the Devils struggling in shootouts?
Tuukka Rask stones Marek Zidlicky in the Devils’ first shootout loss on Jan. 29 in Boston. New Jersey is 0-3 in shootouts this year.
The Devils’ five overtime-losses are tied for the most in the NHL.
In fact, since claiming their first OT win– 3-2 over Washington on Jan. 25– New Jersey’s lost five straight overtime contests. Their most recent OT loss, a 4-3 shootout defeat at the Eastern Conference’s No. 12 seeded Buffalo Sabres, gained New Jersey its 25th point but left the Devils searching for answers.
Three of those five losses have come in a shootout. New Jersey won a league-high 12 games via the shootout a year ago.
“We’re leaving a lot of points on the table,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer told The Record’s Tom Gulitti after Saturday’s game. “We were the benefactor of that last year and this year we’re on the other side of it and I don’t have the answer to it. I’m not a big believer you can practice that. You just hope that it turns and we can get some guys that stick the puck in the net.”
It may be where the Devils are missing Zach Parise most. Parise scored eight shootout goals in 2011-12– the third-most in the league. Parise ranked in the top-20 in shootout goals in 2008-09, 2009-10 and last year. He failed to climb the list in 2010-11 because he missed all but 13 games with a knee injury.
But New Jersey still has skill players — they simply have not performed in shootouts. Ilya Kovalchuk– who led the NHL with 11 shootout goals a year ago– has New Jersey’s only goal in 11 shootout tries (11 percent). Patrik Elias has not scored in two shootout opportunities this year.
On the other side, New Jersey’s goaltending has stopped just 50 percent of all tries against.
It’s simplistic to say that New Jersey’s shootout struggles are an exercise in poor luck. Johan Hedberg’s started in two of the Devils’ three shootout losses– Martin Brodeur’s 46 shootout wins are the most of any goaltender ever.
DeBoer’s tried just about everything he can, and the Devils simply haven’t performed. Shootouts are a confidence thing. The Devils just need to catch a break and find a hot hand.
Pat Pickens is a New Jersey native and lifelong Devils fan. Follow him on Twitter here.