Devils Fire Blanks in Opener vs. Flyers

Philadelphia 3               Devils 0

The 2011-12 edition of the New Jersey Devils started their new season on Saturday night looking to get off to a fast start, unlike last season’s squad which dropped its first three games. Unfortunately no one informed the Philadelphia Flyers about these plans as they controlled the play and pace of the game virtually all night en route to a 3-0 win in front of a sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center.

Despite the disappointing loss in which the Devils (the worst offensive team last season in terms of goals scored) failed to score a single goal, there were some positives to take out of the game. Martin Brodeur made 26 saves, and was the main reason the score was only 1-0 heading into the third period; “He was outstanding, by far our best player,” said coach Pete DeBoer, who made his debut behind New Jersey bench.

The team’s new captain Zach Parise made it through the entire game without incident and appears to be rounding back into his All-Star form following a knee injury that cost him 69 games last season. “I felt pretty good, my legs were good, but I still need to have a little more patience with the puck,” said the newest and ninth captain in team history.

Finally, despite taking way too many penalties, the Devils killed off all eight power plays that they gave the Flyers. “We did take a lot of penalties, so it was tough to generate anything in the third period,” said Parise afterwards. “I thought our PK did a good job, it got called on a lot, and there were some good things that we did out there.”

Claude Giroux scored the first goal of the game 12:05 into the first period burying a one-timer past Brodeur after a pretty backhand pass from James van Riemsdyk. Andreas Nodl (KNOW-duLL) almost made it 2-0 when he roared in on Brodeur on a shorthanded breakaway during the dying seconds of the opening frame, but New Jersey’s netminder stifled the attempt with a midseason-form save. “Yeah (his shot) hit my shoulder; noodle or however you pronounce his name,” said a laughing Brodeur. “He made a good shot and it hit off of my shoulder.”

The Devils improved their play in the second period, but were still unable to get any pucks past Philly’s Ilya Bryzgalov and still trailed on the scoreboard. “It looked to me like we were at practice speed and they were at NHL game speed,” said DeBoer after the loss. “Our reaction time never caught up with where theirs was tonight.”

He was absolutely right in his assessment and his team imploded, surrendering two goals in a span of 2:19and then proceeded to take needless penalty after needless penalty — sabotaging any slim chance of coming back against Philadelphia. Matt Read scored his first career NHL goal from the slot, muscling a shot into the back of the net that Brodeur got a piece of at the 2:31 mark. “I saw it,” said Brodeur, “it just kind of snuck through between my arm and my body.” The lead increased to 3-0 when Wayne Simmonds beat both Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador to a loose puck in front of the crease just asPhiladelphia’s power play had expired.

Less than four minutes after his goal, Simmonds fought David Clarkson — and beat him soundly — putting the exclamation point on a workmanlike Flyers victory. “I think we have less than 48 hours until our next game,” said Parise. “We’ll come in tomorrow and identify some things we didn’t do right and fix them.”

Game Notes: Before the game there was a moment of silence and very touching video tribute in honor of all of the players that the hockey world lost this summer; The Devils honored former teammates Karel Rachunek and Alexander Vasyunov with memorial patches on their jerseys that they will wear again next Saturday night; the jerseys will then be signed by the entire team and auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Rachunek and Vasyunov families. The 4th overall pick in this past June’s draft, Adam Larsson, had a nice debut despite the ugly loss: 21:46 of ice-time (tops among NJ defensemen), three shots on goal, two hits and one blocked shot. Ilya Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri were both -3 on the night. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 23:30; Chris Pronger led the Flyers with 22:57. Philadelphia’s Andrej Meszaros led all players with five shots on goal; four Devils had three shots on goal each. New Jersey rookie Brad Mills won 10-of-11 face-offs he took and his teammate Jacob Josefson won eight-of-ten. Philadelphia (2-0-0) is off until their home opener on Wednesday when they hostVancouver (0-0-1) and New Jersey (0-1-0) is back in action Monday afternoon when they host Carolina (0-2-0).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Claude Giroux (Phi) – gw goal (2)

#2 – Wayne Simmonds (Phi) – goal (1)

#3 – Ilya Bryzgalov (Phi) – 20 saves, win (2-0-0), shutout (1)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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Three More Weeks Until Hockey is Back…

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote, so I will try to cover a variety of topics here:

Congrats to the Boston Bruins who won the Stanley Cup in a Game 7 @ Vancouver. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were off the charts in that series, and Tim Thomas’ performance was legendary. That Claude Julien guy that coaches the B’s is pretty good, it’d be nice if the Devils had a coach like that…

The Atlanta Thrashers (and their fugly uniforms) are gone and the Winnipeg Jets are back! It’s a shame they won’t be wearing the old uniforms, but a new beginning does deserve a new look and I think I like what I saw from the logo and the uniform scheme.

My sincere and deepest condolences to the families of all of the hockey players that passed away this summer. I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened in Russia with the plane crash and I still cannot erase the images of Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek and Alexander Vasyunov’s faces from my mind; hopefully they didn’t suffer. They will all be missed and never, ever forgotten.

So the Philadelphia Flyers brought in Ilya Bryzgalov to play goal this season, making him the 500th goalie they have employed since Martin Brodeur became a New Jersey Devil and the 1,000th netminder since they last won the Cup in 1975. They also traded their two best players — Jeff Carter and Mike Richards — in separate deals that did not bring back equal value and signed 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr. Good luck with that.

It seems certain that Sidney Crosby won’t be ready for the start of the season, but could suit up at some point in 2011-12. Concussions are a delicate issue and Crosby’s career could be derailed like Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya before him. Intentional head shots must be eliminated from the game, but certain players (ahem Criesby…) are also responsible for protecting themselves and need to stop admiring their passes.

Don’t be surprised if the New York Islanders (that’s right, I said it) make the playoffs this season. IF they can stay healthy! John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson seem primed to have big seasons and hopefully Evgeni Nabokov can add some stability to what has been a blue cross and blue shield crease the last few seasons.

The Rangers added the biggest fish in the free-agent pool in Brad Richards, but have we not learned anything over the past six seasons — the team that signs the top free agent never wins the Cup. They did make one right move this summer — naming Ryan Callahan their new captain.

The Devils had a semi-quiet offseason after selecting Adam Larsson with the 4th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. They were able to rid themselves of Colin White and Brian Rolston’s ridiculous contracts, and they were able to re-sign Andy Greene and Johan ‘Moose’ Hedberg. Both Bryce Salvador and Zach Parise have been cleared to start the season, but Travis Zajac may not be back until December after tearing his achilles tendon during an off-ice workout; Zajac’s team record consecutive games streak will end at 401. Cam Janssen is back with NJ and Petr Sykora could be too — he will be in training camp on a tryout basis. The new coach is Peter DeBoer who was fired from the Florida Panthers, the same DeBoer who helped the Cats reach 94 points a few years back — a remarkable feat in itself with the roster he was given. I predict Mattias Tedenby will net at least 20 goals this season and Jacob Josefson will have 30 assists as they help lead the Devs back to the playoffs after last season’s hiccup.

Boston begins defense of it’s Championship on opening night (October 6); the Rangers open in Sweden against the LA Kings the following day (October 7); the Islanders (vs. Florida) and Devils (vs. Philly) both begin their seasons on Saturday October 8; and the new Winnipeg/old Atlanta team makes it’s debut on Sunday October 9 vs. Montreal.

Devils Win Season Finale/Lemaire’s Last Game

Devils 3 Boston 2

The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins played a game on Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center, but all of the talk following the game wasn’t so much about how much of an epic failure this season was for Jersey’s Team, it centered on their coach who was retiring again and stepping away from the Devils bench for the third time.

Jacques Lemaire ended his second stint as the team’s coach last season after the Devils were eliminated in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers; he cited his age and family as reasons to step away from the game. New Jersey started this season poorly under first-time bench boss John MacLean (9-22-2) and when GM Lou Lamoriello called Lemaire the week before Christmas looking for a coach to save the season, the 65-year-old couldn’t turn his back on the franchise. “I’m going back to where I was before this year,” said the coach at his farewell press conference.

“(The job) demands a lot. I want to enjoy life; I want to enjoy the family. I thought that I did make the right decision last year. I’m happy I took it, I took the job for the rest of the season; I had fun. It was a huge challenge for me; I thought the guys responded well. Like I mentioned this morning, the only regret I have is not making the playoffs.”

Lemaire came in and, although it took a few weeks, he was able to get the team back on track to their usual winning ways. Many of the players, including Ilya Kovalchuk, responded almost immediately and started to live up to the backs of their hockey cards. “Kovy really likes him, there’s no doubt about that” said Martin Brodeur. “They got along real well right from the get-go last year. So I’m sure he’d like to see him back; I think a lot of guys would like to see him back also. “Although they didn’t reach their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, Lemaire’s Devils (27-17-3) gave a valiant effort that included a two-month stretch of the season where they reeled off eight consecutive wins and an incredible 20-2-2 record in 24 games to pull them back into contention for a playoff spot.

Ultimately the season was a failure, but the team never gave up and had some fun over the final 41 games — including the last game where they sent Lemaire out a winner with a 3-2 win over the Bruins. Vladimir Zharkov scored his second career goal, breaking a 1-1 tie four minutes into the third period, beating goalie Tuukka Rask on a breakaway. Rookie defenseman Alexander Urbom’s first career goal came 5:10 after Zharkov’s tally and proved to be the game-winner when Boston’s Chris Kelly scored with 3.1 seconds left.

Urbom (who appeared in seven games earlier this season) was recalled from Albany earlier in the day along with Adam Henrique — who was making his NHL debut. Henrique, the Devils’ 3rd round draft pick in 2008, became the tenth Devil (team record) to play his first NHL game this season: Mark Fayne, Stephen Gionta, Jacob Josefson, Oliver Magnan, Brad Mills, Matt Taormina, Mattias Tedenby, Urbom and Alexander Vasyunov. Lemaire really liked what he saw from the 21-year-old Henrique, “He didn’t look like he played in his first game in the NHL. He’s going to move the puck, can skate, sees the ice well and I’m sure he’s got a touch for scoring. So, all these kids that are either with us or came up, this is the future — and the future up front is bright, there’s no doubt about this.”

Johan Hedberg made 24 saves in front of the sellout crowd at the Rock and finished the season with a solid record of 15-12-2 (three shutouts) in 34 games; Brodeur’s season ended under .500 for the first time in his 16-year career, 23-26-3 (six shutouts).

Patrik Elias scored his 21st goal of the season 1:47 into the game and with his 62 points he led the Devils in scoring for the seventh time in his career. Kovalchuk led the team in goals with 31. Four players played in all 82 of the team’s games: Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder and David Clarkson; Kovalchuk appeared in 81 games — only missing a game when MacLean suspended him for missing a team meeting.

Lemaire admitted he was unsure up until two days ago, but was confident he made the right choice. “This is exciting, this is fun; especially when the team wins, and it’s a great atmosphere. You love a lot of things, you get really upset, you get mad about what the players do, not at the individual but at what they’re doing. But as soon as they do something good, right away you feel good. I said this today when I talked to my wife; I said if I was younger, I would be coach because I love it.”

Game Notes: Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg led all skaters in ice-time with 22:54 while Greene led the Devils with 22:18. New Jersey forwards Rod Pelley and Clarkson led all players with five shots on goal each; Milan Lucic led Boston with four. Clarkson’s assist on Urbom’s goal was the 100th point of his career. The Devils will be in the NHL Draft lottery for the first time since 1996 and will find out where they pick in the first round on Tuesday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Vladimir Zharkov (NJ) – goal (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 24 saves, win (15)

#3 – Tuukka Rask (Bos) – 29 saves, loss (14)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Devils-Oilers Postgame Quotes [11.12.10]

Here are the postgame quotes from the Devils-Oilers game:

Brian Rolston:

Talking about his return to the lineup…

“I’ve been out of the lineup 14 games so tonight was a bit of a battle (physically), but we got through it.”

It seems like the team is finally starting to play well together, do you agree?

“Well we looked a little better obviously; it always feels good to win for sure. There is still a long road ahead of us and we have to get (even) better.”

Can you talk about the goal you scored tonight?

“It was just a good play, a hard-working shift by our whole line. Clarkie (David Clarkson) came around the net, wrapped the puck and I just got the rebound; I was basically on top of the goalie so I didn’t have to shovel it too far.”

It came at a crucial point in the game though…

“Yeah absolutely; especially after they go up 3-1 and especially with the way things have gone around here, it was a character win for us to come back.”

Patrik Elias:

How big was it for Ilya to get that goal in overtime?

“Well obviously it was big, I’m pretty sure he’s relieved and it was a big goal for all of us.”

What were your impressions of Tedenby’s game tonight?

“I think I’m going to have to answer that about 50 times tonight (laughs), it’s okay. He’s played well, and he’s played well in both games he’s been here. He makes good plays, holds onto the puck, he’s poised with it and we had a couple of great cycles going. We had a lot of good (scoring) opportunities; hopefully the puck will start going in for us a little bit more. We had a lot of good chances in the first and second periods, we have to stay with it, play that way, have fun and it’ll go in.”

It seems like despite his size (listed modestly at 5’10”) he’s not afraid to go into the corners and bang bodies with some of the bigger players, do you agree?

“Yeah it’s tough to play against those small guys though…just look at Gionta — both of them (smiles). It’s tough to defend those guys, they’re usually very quick. Sometimes he may draw a penalty (on the opponent) because they’re so small. He’ll get better as we go along.”

Is there anything that you have to tell him during the game?

“We talk, we talk a lot. We talk power play, what do we want to do, we talk five-on-five; you know sometimes when he needs to be aggressive and when he needs to be poised. It’s a learning process and he’s asking questions.”

Ilya Kovalchuk:

How do you feel about how the game went?

“I thought we played real well, our start was there — we had a couple of great chances but they scored those two goals. But we never gave up, it was a great team effort and a great comeback; we’re definitely going to build on this.”

Did you want that puck at the end, did you want to get that goal?

“Yeah that what Oatesy (assistant coach Adam Oates) drew up on the board there during the timeout and we went started in a box and then went into the umbrella.”

Does it make you feel good to finally get that win at home?

“Yeah, it took us a while but sometimes you have to go all the way to the bottom. We have that win now and maybe we’ll start playing better and feeling better. We have a lot of guys back (in the lineup) now and that helps. Especially those veteran defenseman and Marty (Brodeur); we have some great young kids who play really hard but they were struggling because they don’t have much experience.”

Is that where you felt you were, rock bottom?

“Yeah; it couldn’t get worse.”

Personally?

“I think for everybody. Especially after that last game, you just have to smile at those things and move on.”

How did it feel to score that goal?

“It feels good. But we’re still, I don’t know, 14th or 15th in our conference, which is not where we want to be.”

Where did your shot beat the goalie?

“Low glove hand, I think right over his leg pad.”

When the game went to overtime how badly think you think ‘I want to be the guy tonight’?

“I think everybody was looking for it because when you step on the ice you want to score and help the team win. That’s our job.”

Can this be a win that sparks the team and leads you guys to reel a few (wins) off?

“That’s what we need. We have a big road trip coming up against three teams that play really well and it’ll be a good challenge for us.”

What did you think of (Alexander) Vasuynov’s goal?

“It was nice; he’s a guy that works really hard. My countryman (smiles), he got the first of many I hope; last year Zharky (Vladimir Zharkov) was here and he couldn’t get a goal. I really wanted him to score so he has confidence when he has the puck.”

Mattias Tedenby:

You could have had two goals tonight…

“Yeah, I know, I missed that one opportunity I had there on the power play when Clarkie shot and I got the rebound.”

When you did score it felt pretty good right?

“Yeah, exactly. It felt very good when I scored out there on the second PP.”

The deflection hit off the shaft of your stick or the blade?

“I think it was my blade.”

Did someone get the puck for you?

“Yeah I think so. I saw the puck before, but I don’t know where it is now.”

This is pretty easy right, you got a goal and an assist your first two games?

“I’m playing with good players and I’m just trying to work hard. Arnie (Jason Arnott) and Elias give me a lot of space (to work with) with smart passes.”

Koval-Choke Becomes Koval-Clutch!

Devils 4 Edmonton 3           overtime

In the span of 48 hours, Ilya Kovalchuk experienced first hand why so many people love sports — the agony of heart-breaking losses, and the thrill of dramatic, heart-stopping victories. On Wednesday night when his New Jersey Devils lost to the Buffalo Sabres, Kovalchuk never got to take his shootout attempt because the puck jumped off of his stick blade as he was stickhandling — sending him to the locker room frustrated and embarrassed.

After a solid day of practice, he was ready to move on, “It’s all history. Today the sun is up and everything is good,” Kovalchuk said on Thursday with a fresh outlook. “Tomorrow we have to win because we don’t have a win at home yet; that’s embarrassing.”

Friday night at Prudential Center it was Kovalchuk who accomplished that mission when he scored the winning goal — in overtime, capping a rally that saw New Jersey get off the mat after falling behind 3-1 to the young Edmonton Oilers. Throughout the game the Russian sniper had a handful of shots that never reached the net and entering overtime, he had still yet to register a shot on goal.

Despite only having scored three goals in fifteen games and despite all of his recent lack of puck-luck, he continued to work hard and 2:15 into the five-minute o.t. he drew a penalty on Edmonton’s Dustin Penner who tripped him at center ice along the boards. The Devils coach, John MacLean, called a timeout and before a minute had elapsed in Penner’s penalty, Kovalchuk had won the game with a rocket shot past Oilers’ goalie Devan Dubnyk from the left circle. “It feels good. But we’re still, I don’t know, 14th or 15th in our conference,” said Kovalchuk, “which is not where we want to be.”

Before the game was ten minutes old, New Jersey found themselves down by two goals — thanks in large part to Edmonton’s Colin Fraser, who scored both. The Devils continued to fire shots at Dubnyk and 5:57 after Fraser’s second tally, rookie Alexander Vasyunov took a pass from Travis Zajac and scored his first career NHL goal on a nice redirection in front of the crease.

Sam Gagner restored the two-goal bulge for the Oilers when he scored on a rebound 5:11 into the second period, silencing the crowd at the Rock who came hoping to see the first home win of the season. The next ten minutes were frustrating for New Jersey as they fired shot after shot at Dubnyk and had nothing to show for it until Brian Rolston finally scored with 3:08 left in the period. On the scoring play, David Clarkson’s wraparound attempt was denied but the loose puck came right to Rolston who was standing in the blue paint of the crease. “It was just a good play, a hard-working shift by our whole line. Clarkie came around the net, wrapped the puck and I just got the rebound,” explained Rolston, “I was basically on top of the goalie so I didn’t have to shovel it too far.”

With 15:31 left in the third period rookie Mattias Tedenby (playing in his second NHL game) thought he had scored his first career goal, but was robbed by Dubnyk’s sharp glove hand. The 20-year old Swede finally got his first career goal when he tied the game with 9:00 left on the power play. Andy Greene fired a shot from the blueline that Tedenby deflected from the slot and under the Edmonton netminder. “I think it hit my (stick) blade,” said the diminutive rookie after the game. “It felt very good when I scored out there.”

Kovalchuk was able to complete the comeback for the Devils in overtime and for the second game in a row they scored four goals — perhaps a sign that they are coming out of their season-long collective slumps. “Obviously it was big,’ said Patrik Elias (2 assists) after the game. “I’m pretty sure he’s relieved and it was a big goal for all of us.” Kovalchuk concurred, adding, “We never gave up, it was a great team effort and a great comeback; we’re definitely going to build on this.”

Game Notes: Kovalchuk now has eleven career overtime goals, which ranks third in NHL history; his teammate Elias is tied for first all-time with 15. Rolston returned to the lineup after missing 14 games due to a sports hernia. Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney led all players with five blocked shots, led all skaters with 30:26 of ice-time and he also chipped in with two assists; Greene led the Devils in ice-time with 27:39. Elias led all players with six shots on goal, while Edmonton rookie Taylor Hall (last June’s no. 1 overall draft pick) led his team with five. Both captains didn’t play in the game due to injury — New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner (soreness) and Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff (thigh bruise). Fraser’s two goals were the first two of the season for him. New Jersey (5-10-2) is off until Monday when they play at Boston (8-4-1) while Edmonton (4-8-3) next plays Sunday afternoon at MSG against New York (8-7-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw/pp goal (4)

#2 – Colin Fraser (Edm) – 2 goals (2)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (9)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.