Devils Snap Skid, Muzzle Coyotes 3-0

Devils 3 Phoenix 0

Not only did the New Jersey Devils snap a five-game losing streak with their 3-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center, but they may have gotten their two most important players into a positive frame of mind — a rarity in what has been a dismal season. Ilya Kovalchuk scored two goals, his first multi-goal effort as a Devil in 56 games with the club and Martin Brodeur made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season (113th career).

“It’s one game,” said Kovalchuk after the game, “it doesn’t make the season, you know? It’s a good game and we have to build on it.” He paused and added, “It’s a long way to go to where we want to be, but we just have to take it one game at a time.”

The win was much-needed for a team that was watching their playoff hopes slip away as they sat 29th out of 30 teams in points (18) this season. After New Jersey killed off an early Coyotes power play, Kovalchuk gave his squad a rare, early lead when he converted a one-timer after receiving a nice pass from Dainius Zubrus. It was only his sixth goal of the year, putting him on pace for the worst offensive season of his nine in the league. “I knew it was a two-on-one and the back-checker was on me,” explained Zubrus, “I don’t know if I would’ve been able to cut to the middle and get the shot off; I knew Kovy was there too, so I was able to get a pass to an area where he could do something with it. And he did.”

Rookie defenseman Mark Fayne doubled the Devils’ lead when he netted his first career NHL goal at 13:18, blasting a shot from the blue line past Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov who was screened on the play.

Brodeur turned aside ten Coyote shots in the first period, eleven in the second and eight in the third but it wasn’t until he stopped Taylor Pyatt’s semi-breakaway early in the second period that it appeared it was going to be tough to beat the future Hall-of-famer on this night. “I had a good angle on him,” explained Brodeur, “I held my ground on my butterfly and he hit the top of my pad; he wasn’t really looking but he hammered it pretty good.”

Kovalchuk finished the scoring early in the third period when he pounded another one-time past his countryman Bryzgalov, this time during a 5-on-3 advantage. “I always feel good about it,” he said about his confidence in his one-timer. “Sometimes I don’t get many opportunities to do it, tonight it seemed like I got a few of them. That’s all my linemates and my teammates – they create that room (for me).”

One more important challenge/moment remained for New Jersey and that was late in the third when they had to kill a penalty to preserve the shutout — as well as a good state of mind. “Marty played real well for us (tonight), so you want to get him the shutout,” said Zubrus of his goalie’s performance. “It’s good,” said Brodeur of the blanking, “winning is what we’re looking for, shutouts are a bonus; if you could call it a bonus in these times.” He knew it was important for his team’s fragile psyche after their worst start in fifteen seasons. “We have to learn to battle, to play through a little adversity; not just when you are losing — but when you’re winning.

Killing that penalty, even though getting scored on wouldn’t have really mattered much (to the final outcome), that prepares you in knowing that you’re able to get the job done when it’s a tighter game.”

Game Notes: Defenseman Anssi Salmela made his season debut for the Devils and played 14:57 during his 20 shifts. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 22:51 and Derek Morris led Phoenix with 22:21. Kovalchuk and Coyotes captain Shane Doan led all players with five shots on goal each; Doan led all players with four hits. Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac each have six points in their last five games. New Jersey (9-19-2) is off until Friday when they host Nashville (16-8-6) while Phoenix (14-9-6) plays Thursday night against New York (19-13-1) at MSG.

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – 2 goals, pp/gw (7)

#2 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 29 saves, win (5), shutout (3)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (15)

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

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The Waiting is Over…

After 65 days of being held hostage….yes 65…. the Ilya Kovalchuk saga is over. The NHL finally approved Kovalchuk’s 15 year, $100 million dollar deal with the New Jersey Devils and the rest of the hockey world can now move on with their lives. Personally, I was finally able to wear my ‘Kovalchuk 17’ t-shirt that I purchased after he signed the first contract that was rejected by the league and then rejected again by an independent arbitrator.

So what’s next for the Devils? Kovy’s deal puts them about $3 million over the salary cap limit with only 21 of 23 players on their roster, meaning they will have to shed at least two contracts (perhaps Bryce Salvador and Dainius Zubrus) and sign some other players to small money contracts to fill out the roster. By the way, has anyone else noticed that on the Devils official website that Jay Pandolfo is no longer listed on the team’s roster? Other candidates to be moved include Colin White and Brian Rolston, but both have no-trade clauses in their contracts and both are undesirable to other teams as of this moment. If Salvador is moved, I would expect them to bring defenseman Mike Mottau back on a one-year, cheapie deal. If Zubrus is shipped out, expect the team to add some depth by signing a solid veteran such as Richard Park, Brendan Morrison or Jeff Halpern.

With the players they have under contract now, assuming Salvador & or Zubrus are moved, here is what the opening night lineup could look like:

Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner
Ilya Kovalchuk-Jason Arnott-David Clarkson
Patrik Elias-Brian Rolston-Vladimir Zharkov
Pierre-Luc Leblond-Richard Park-Mattias Tedenby

Anton Volchenkov-Andy Greene
Henrik Tallinder-Anssi Salmela
Colin White-Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur-Johan Hedberg

spares: Mike Mottau?, Rod Pelley, Tim Sestito

Who are the teams left that can afford to add a contract like Salvador ($2.9 million) or Zubrus ($3.4 million) this late in the summer?
The Islanders, Thrashers, Blues, Hurricanes, Coyotes, Panthers, Lightning, Stars, Ducks, Predators & Kings all have $9 million or more in cap space.
Time will tell how GM Lou Lamoriello is going to shape and mold his 2010-11 roster and all we can do is sit back and wait; this time it won’t be 65 days because training camp starts for New Jersey on September 17, but they don’t have to be under the salary cap until October 8.

How do you feel now that the second best goal-scorer in the NHL will be a Devil for the next 15 seasons?

Should He Stay or Should He Go…

It’s been almost two weeks since the New Jersey Devils 2009-10 season came to a crashing halt at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Three days after their elimination, coach Jacques Lemaire announced his retirement forcing the team to search for it’s sixth head coach in six seasons since the lockout ended. Three consecutive first round exits, haven’t made it past the second round since winning the 2003 Stanley Cup.

After having time to digest all of this I’ve come up with some suggestions on how to improve the team and hopefully help them (at least) make it out of the opening round of the playoffs. All salaries I used are courtesy of nhlnumbers.com.

Coach: Hire Mike Keenan. The ex-Ranger coach, (more recently ex-Calgary) would seem like an odd choice at first glance, but he knows how to win and he could work well together with another crafty mind like GM Lou Lamoriello. His first task will be convincing Brodeur to play less games, oh and his career total of 672 wins is good for 4th all-time.

Trade: Jamie Langenbrunner, Mark Fraser (and/or) Andy Greene to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle. Perhaps Lamoriello can convince Leafs GM Brian Burke that he can use a Langenbrunner to lead his young team in 2010-11 as he led Burke’s Team USA to a silver medal. Kaberle has one year left on his current deal at $4.25 mil, so to make it fair salary-wise Lamoriello may have to surrender both Greene and Fraser; Langenbrunner is due $2.8 mil and will also be going into the last year of his contract. Perhaps Kaberle will waive his no-trade clause to skate with fellow Czech Patrik Elias.

Trade: Before the draft call your old trading partner Don Waddell from Atlanta and offer him RFA David Clarkson ($875,000) for soon-to-be UFA Colby Armstrong ($2.4 mil). Maybe he still wasn’t 100% from the leg injury, but Clarkson was invisible versus the Flyers; Armstrong will be a player that plays hard every shift and in front of the opposing goalie he will be a pain in the @$$, something Clarkson has failed to do in each of the last two postseasons. See if Waddell has any interest or room for Jay Pandolfo also, who could help stabilize a young squad.

Free Agency: Let Paul Martin, Mike Mottau, Rob Niedermayer, Rod Pelley and Martin Skoula walk away. Changes have to be made and most of these players were very serviceable, the ultimate results just weren’t there.

Do whatever you have to do to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk. Quick name another first overall pick that has played for the Devils. Stumped, well as far as I know there is only one other– Bobby Carpenter — and he wasn’t nearly as dynamic as Kovalchuk is. Hopefully Ilya sticks around, but who am I kidding, there’s no way he’ll stay in New Jersey right?

Sign Free Agents : Tomas Plekanec, Marek Svatos and either Andy Sutton or Anton Volchenkov. Plekanec is the center that the Devils have been lacking since Scott Gomez took the money and ran to Manhattan, leaving Travis Zajac as the team’s only legitimate scoring center. Svatos is a talented, scrappy, underachieving winger from Colorado who could fit in on a solid third/fourth line. Either Sutton or Volchenkov won’t come cheap, but they are both worth the money that will be spent on them. They both block shots well, get in shooting lanes and aren’t afraid to get into scrums to protect the front of their crease — a huge lacking element in NJ the last three playoff failures. Both players also have the same downside too — they are both injury prone, so teams may end up being hesitant to throw major cash around.

There’s a saying ‘scared money makes no money’ so I say the Devils need to revamp the current edition to make it look something like this:

Line A: Ilya Kovalchuk-Tomas Plekanec-Patrik Elias
Line B: Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Dainius Zubrus
Line C: Brian Rolston-Colby Armstrong-Marek Svatos
Line D: Pierre-Luc Leblond-Tim Sestito/Dean McAmmond-Vladimir Zharkov

D-pair 1: Tomas Kaberle-Anton Volchenkov/Andy Sutton
D-pair 2: Matthew Corrente-Bryce Salvador
D-pair 3: Colin White-Anssi Salmela/Tyler Eckford

Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Yann Danis

I know I’ve made some crazy suggestions here, and I have no doubt that I’ll probably be 0.00% right, but hopefully some changes are made so I’m not sitting home watching less-superior teams battle for a chance to get steamrolled next season. Let me know how insane this all sounded, Thanx.

Dan

Devils-Maple Leafs Postgame Quotes [02.05.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 4-3 win over Toronto on Friday night:

Travis Zajac:
The game didn’t exactly go the way you planned, are you happy with the result?

“Yeah, we found a way to get the two points; we know we didn’t play good until, maybe the last five minutes of that game. When we got it to 3-2, we started to pressure them a little more, getting in on the forecheck; we got a penalty called in our favor and we were able to capitalize. Then we got one with 20 seconds left so it was a weird game. We didn’t get much going until the end of the game.”

This game was similar to last Friday’s game against Toronto, wasn’t it?

“Yeah exactly, I think the first two periods we didn’t play with a lot of confidence, excitement; I don’t know what it was. We weren’t controlling the puck; we were making terrible plays and turning the puck over. In the third we came out with a little better performance and were able to sneak one away.”

Was part of that lack of energy the overexcitement of having a new player on the team?

“Yeah, maybe; I think this morning we were all pretty excited and we had a lot of energy at pre-game skate it felt like. Maybe we were a little too excited and weren’t ready for the game; but it looked like we didn’t have as much energy or we weren’t working hard or something, but it helps when you get a couple of goals. It was definitely exciting and hopefully we can build off this win.”

Talk about your goal…

“Just on the power play there, Kovalchuk had it at the point and he made a nice play to Dean-o; Dean sent it cross-ice to me and I was just able to get a pretty good shot away.”

You’ve been getting goals like that lately, on slap shots and one-timers, is that something you work on constantly?

“Yeah we work on it in practice; one-timers all the time. I just got all of that one for some reason.”

Kovalchuk jumped on you after that goal; how exciting of a moment was that…

“Yeah (smiles), you could see, just by the first game you can tell he wants to win, he’s a good teammate and he gets excited to score and win games; that’s what we need on this team.”

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about the power play…

“Having Kovy in the lineup, we need to draw penalties because having him is a huge weapon.”

What’s your take on Kovalchuk?

“Well he’s an exciting player; he’s a guy where the opposing team cares about where he is at all times. Eventually it will open up some ice for other people — you saw it on the power play with him faking the one-timer and passing it back to Dean-o. It opened that whole lane because the defender didn’t want to give that shot away from Kovy right in the middle of the ice like that. That’s what hopefully he’ll bring every night to us.”

Last week we talked about recent wild games against Toronto, does this one go right up with that?

“Definitely (chuckles), that was an interesting game; I think we played well for two periods and we were as bad as it gets for the second period, myself included. Turnovers were made and it wasn’t pretty out there, but I was able to make two big saves — one on (Phil) Kessel early in the third period and the toe save I made on (John) Mitchell — that kept the game still within reach and the guys took over in the last five minutes.”

Did the second Toronto goal hit one of your players on its way towards you?

“No it kind of screened me, a scissor-effect with the skate; I think (Colin) White was following the player and it went right through his legs — and I missed it a bit, I thought I was in good position. It just hit my stick and found a little hole in my five-hole.”

Jay Pandolfo:

Talking about his goal…

“I just went to the net, Jamie (Langenbrunner) made a great play in the zone to kind of keep in it, he made a nice pass back to (Mike) Mottau and I just went to the net and got the rebound.”

Similar to last week’s game except this week your team scored the late goals?

“Yeah it was a nice comeback for us, we didn’t have our best game obviously, sometimes that happens when you get a new player and everybody’s trying to get him the puck.”

Jacques Lemaire:

Can you describe what led to the turnaround?

“I cannot (smiles). The whole game I was asking the players to win battles, to make plays, to be better with the puck; we have to be better, we couldn’t do that. We did it only the last two minutes and fifty seconds — then everything was working — we were skating, passing the puck, making plays. How it happened, I just don’t know.”

Did (Vladimir) Zharkov’s pass to (Dean) McAmmond change the whole game there?

“I think it did. The guys on the bench were really excited about that goal and I heard some of them saying ‘hey we can come back, we can come back’ and for the first time in the game I saw that they were excited.”

Talking about the third period…

“We played (only) three lines at the end, most of the time. I was trying to find the combination that could work together; I probably tried everyone with everybody.”

Is Kovalchuk more than just a goal scorer?

“He can pass the puck, you can tell by the plays he’s making; he’ll be fine. He’s a guy that can’t do it on his own all the time; he will sometimes, but he needs help. I thought we played exactly like we’ve been playing lately — not enough energy on the ice, which we paid the price for. Now I’m trying to find the right answer, the right things to do, to make them play as hard as they can.”

Did you know he is getting better in the defensive aspect of the game?

“On the flight from Washington maybe he thought about that (smiles).”

You used (Anssi) Salmela almost twenty minutes, what did you think of him?

“He was fine; he played well. He was not a liability, he moved the puck fine; he just has to get used to the type of game that we’re playing.”

Did Zharkov have one of his better games?

“Zharkov played really well; I have to say that he was one of the best players (for us). He was skating, had puck control, and played hard defensively and offensively.”

Ilya Kovalchuk:

How exciting was this win?

“Very exciting; I took a penalty in the second period and they scored. I was saying to myself that I had to do something because it wasn’t going to be a good debut.”

How many comebacks like this do you remember, this was pretty unusual?

“This year, with the Thrashers, we had quite a few. But it was great to play in front of this kind of crowd, they supported us all game long and nobody left the building.”

You mentioned Brodeur being meaningful, what do you mean by that?

“Yeah, the saves he made in the third period, on their power play, I think that was the key to the game.”

Were you nervous?

“No, not really. First shift, maybe, but the guys were supporting me real well.”

Were you trying to come back and play defense more often tonight?

“I will try always to do that; this year I was plus-1 when I left the Thrashers and that was a big change for me. I think in my career I am minus-95 or something, so hopefully that will change.”

How do you feel you played?

“It wasn’t my best game, but I think it was all right for my first game — especially that we got the two points.”

Can you sum up what the last 24-hours have been like for you?

“It’s not easy, but when you come to this kind of organization, where they’ve won three Stanley Cups, they definitely know how to win and they want to win. To make this move shows that they are serious and hopefully we can do some damage in the playoffs.”