Sharks’ Comeback Bites Devils in Shootout

San Jose 4              Devils 3   — shootout

Over the past few seasons the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks have played some wildly entertaining games and Friday night at the Prudential Center was no different, as the visiting Sharks rallied from two goals down and beat the Devils in a shootout after tying the game again with 33 seconds left in regulation. Johan Hedberg ended up as the hard-luck loser in this one as he was brilliant in goal for New Jersey, finishing with 37 saves. “I thought he was great,” said coach Peter DeBoer after the game, “he gave us a chance to win, to get a point.”

The Devils opened the scoring 13:53into the game when Patrik Elias scored off a perfect circle-to-circle pass from Ilya Kovalchuk, snapping a wrist shot top shelf past Sharks netminder Antti Niemi. The power play goal was the 92nd of Elias’ career, tying him with John MacLean for most in franchise history.

With 2:52left in the period, the Devils lost their second line center Jacob Josefson when he crashed hard into the boards behind the San Jose goal. The 20-year-old skated immediately to the bench and into the locker room with his right arm dangling; it was later announced he had a broken right clavicle.

Thirty-six seconds into the second period Zach Parise was awarded a penalty shot when Sharks defenseman Brent Burns pulled him down on a shorthanded breakaway. The Devils captain has become a master of sorts in penalty shots/shootout attempts lately and he continued that reputation as he increased the lead to 2-0, faking out Niemi with his forehand and slipping a backhand shot through the goalie’s five-hole.

Hedberg held the Sharks scoreless as long as he could with the shot total rising rapidly, but he was finally beaten 15:18into the second when Joe Thornton’s wrist shot slid into the net under the goalie’s pads. “I’m not sure how that went in,” Hedberg admitted, “it surprised me too; I don’t know why I didn’t stop that, I’m not sure actually.” Ryane Clowe completed the comeback and evened the score 1:03 later when the puck pin-balled off of his shin pad and found the back of the net.

San  Jose continued to outshoot the Devils but the game remained even until 13:18 had elapsed and David Clarkson scored his second goal in as many games, converting a beautiful spin-o-rama feed from Mattias Tedenby. “He made a great play to me in front,” said Clarkson, “I had enough time and found the back of the net.”

Victory for New Jersey seemed certain until the final minute when with their goalie pulled for an extra-attacker, the Sharks tied the game as Joe Pavelski wired a shot through a maze of players in front of the crease. Hedberg appeared to be interfered with on the play, and he tried to plead his case but the officials didn’t see it that way and the game was tied. “We were thirty seconds away from winning the game and we still had a chance in the shootout,” said Parise afterwards. “I think we know we have to be a lot better. It wasn’t our best game tonight and we know there are going to be more of those, but we definitely need to be better for tomorrow.”

The game remained 3-3 after a five-minute overtime, sending the outcome to be decided by a shootout. Kovalchuk scored first, beating Niemi with a rising backhand and Pavelski’s attempt went wide of Hedberg’s cage. Parise was denied on his attempt, evening the score between he and Niemi. “He made a good save on it,” said Parise. Niemi didn’t want to get burned on the same move as earlier and was ready. “You can’t really cheat too much,” said the Sharks’ goalkeeper. “You just have to try and wait him out.” Michal Handzus evened the tie breaker with a shot that hit the goalpost and then went in off Hedberg’s back.

Elias attempted a wrist shot through the goalie’s five-hole and was denied and Clowe won the game when he flipped a backhand over the Moose’s glove hand. “I’ve taken a few shootouts now over the years and that’s kind of my go-to move, I usually go backhand,” said Clowe. “It’s a little easier I guess when I face Eastern Conference goalies because they don’t get to see you as much. Hedberg’s kind of a smaller goalie and I have a long stick, long reach; I try to use that when I go to my backhand. I think he was over there, but I got it up over his pad.”

Game Notes: Thornton (the Sharks captain) played in his 1000th NHL game, and had two points, giving him 42 points in 34 career games against New Jersey. Colin White played his first game against the team he spent the past 11 seasons with and the two-time Stanley Cup winner was applauded by the Devils fans when he was announced during pre-game in the San Jose starting lineup; he played 14:44, led all players with three hits, was minus-1 and had one shot on goal. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 32:25 and Dan Boyle led the Sharks with 31:23. Pavelski, Boyle and Clowe led all players with six shots on goal, and Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov led all players with four blocked shots. New Jersey (3-1-1) is back in action Saturday night when they play at Pittsburgh (5-2-2) and San Jose (2-3-0) will also be in action that night when they play at Boston (3-4-0).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Joe Pavelski (SJ) – goal (3), assist (1)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 37 saves, OT loss (3-0-1)

#3 – David Clarkson (NJ) – goal (2), assist (1)

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

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.

Hedberg & Devils Blank League-Leading Capitals

In game two of this season the New Jersey Devils played the Washington Capitals and got smoked in D.C. to the tune of 7-2. In game 21 on Monday night at the Prudential Center, with both teams heading in different directions, the Devils evened the score by shutting out the NHL’s most talented team in a much-needed 5-0 win. It was perhaps their most complete game of the season as four different players tallied goals and Johan Hedberg was rock solid in net to the tune of 30 saves and his first shutout as a Devil.

Jason Arnott scored twice for the winners (bumping his team-leading total to eight) and rookie Mattias Tedenby continued to impress with a penalty shot goal and the primary assist on the winning goal — scored by him and Arnott’s linemate, Patrik Elias. “He said before the game he felt good,” said Elias of the 20-year-old Swede, “he was right.”

With rookie Braden Holtby making his fifth appearance in an NHL game, Elias opened the scoring 5:49 in when it appeared he got the shaft of his stick on a crisp pass from Tedenby during a power play. He admitted to the media that the puck hit Caps’ defenseman Mike Green’s stick and hit off of his pants leg. Arnott doubled the lead at 16:15 when he carried the puck into the zone, fought off Capitals’ defenseman John Erskine and forward Brooks Laich, and then scored on a quick wraparound that had Holtby spinning in his crease.

Tedenby was pulled down by Erskine on a breakaway 1:59 later and he was able to make it 3-0 for his Devils on a penalty shot when he calmly skated in and flipped a backhand shot over the fellow rookie’s glove hand. “I don’t know if it’s good or luck,” he admitted shyly after the game before a media crowd.

Arnott added his second goal of the game 2:43 into the second period, collecting the rebound of Andy Greene’s point shot and sliding it into the net and Dainius Zubrus delivered the final blow when he flicked a rebound into the net after a well-orchestrated 3-on-2 into the Caps’ zone.

To their credit, Washington never quit, and they certainly made Hedberg work for his 15th career shutout. “It felt good,” said the Devils’ netminder. “We needed a win badly and I think the way we played we started something good.” He denied dangerous sniper Alexander Semin’s wrist shot from deep in the slot midway through the second.

The great-eight aka Alex Ovechkin challenged Hedberg 6:10 into the third period with a booming slap shot that loudly bounced off the goalie’s leg pad – right back to the ever-dangerous Ovechkin who quickly fired another shot towards the goal. But his shot rang off the goal post and bounced away, perhaps signaling that this would indeed be the Devils’ night. They’ve now won two in a row at the Rock, a small positive, but something that they can build on, as well as the 5-0 thrashing of the team with the NHL’s best record.

Game Notes: The Devils are honoring their former coach Pat Burns with memorial “PB” patches on their jerseys for the next four home games. Each of the jerseys will then be autographed by the entire team and auctioned off. Proceeds from the sale of the jerseys will be donated in Pat Burns’ memory to La Maison Aube-Lumiere, a cancer hospice in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The team also showed a brief video and held a moment of silence before the game. Elias, Arnott, Tedenby and Greene each had two points in the game; Tedenby led all players with a +3. Ovechkin and Semin led all players with five shots on goal apiece, while Elias and Arnott led New Jersey with four each. Washington defenseman John Carlson led all skaters in ice-time with 27:11, while Henrik Tallinder led New Jersey with 25:23. Ovechkin led all players with five hits, while Devils defensemen Colin White and Anton Volchenkov had a game-high three blocked shots each. New Jersey (6-13-2) is off until Wednesday when they host Calgary (8-11-1) and Washington (14-6-2) is also back in action that same night when they play at Carolina (9-9-2).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Mattias Tedenby (NJ) – goal (3), assist (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 30 saves, win (2), shutout (1)

#3 – Jason Arnott (NJ) – 2 goals (8)

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

Offense Vanishes Again as Rangers Blank Devils

NY Rangers 3                Devils 0

The New Jersey Devils found yet another way to lose at home — this time it was via the shutout — making matters worse it was against their most-hated rivals, the New York Rangers by a score of 3-0 on Friday night. Henrik Lundqvist made 33 saves for the Blueshirts before a sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center, the fifth time in his career that he has shutout the Devils over 32 games (20-7-5). New York’s Brandon Dubinsky scored two goals (including the game-winner) in the game giving him ten, which is surprisingly tied for the NHL lead through the first month of the season.

For New Jersey, they fell to 0-5-1 at home this year, which is a major factor in their gruesome 4-10-1 start to what appeared to be a promising season in September; they have scored an NHL-worst 25 goals this season. “We played hard. We competed hard; we just didn’t generate enough offense,” said Devils coach John MacLean, who may soon be on the hot seat. Once again the injury-bug hit the team as goalie Martin Brodeur (bruised elbow) and defenseman Colin White (flu) sat out the contest; one bright spot was the return of defenseman Anton Volchenkov who hadn’t played since game number two when his nose was broken blocking a shot in Washington.

Backup netminder Johan Hedberg played okay in the crease for the Devils, but the lack of offensive and defensive support didn’t help either as he surrendered three goals on only 20 Rangers’ shots, one in each period. Hedberg’s teammates took five penalties in the game and it was the second goal, a New York power play goal that really broke the back (and spirit) of the entire team.

Five seconds after the goalie made a nice glove save on Todd White’s shot from the deep slot, Brian Boyle deflected a long shot into the back of the net, staking New York to a 2-0 lead at intermission. “I just tried to stay in front (of the goalie) and put my stick in a spot,” Boyle explained after the game. “Danny (Girardi) shot right at my stick, I didn’t move my stick. Just a little redirection like that — even if he does save it he has no idea where the rebound is going. All around it was a great play by everybody; I just kind of stood there, and I got the goal, so it was nice.”

Dubinsky started and ended the Rock party for the Rangers — first opening the scoring with a rebound goal 7:35 into the game — and then notching a shorthanded goal 3:41 into the third period; ensuring the goal-starved Devils would be unable to catch up. Lundqvist made sure he was going to get his second shutout of the year when he snatched Travis Zajac’s wrist shot out of the air with 7:50 left in the game.

Game Notes: The Devils have now called up an eye-popping 11 players from their minor-league affiliate in Albany and the season is only 28 days old. Boyle, in his fourth NHL season, set a career-high with his fifth goal; he had four in each of the previous three seasons. The Rangers played without one of their best players — Ryan Callahan — who sat out because of soreness. Dubinsky led all players with six shots on goal; four Devils had four shots on goal each, including Stephen Gionta (younger brother of ex-Devil Brian Gionta) who was making his NHL debut…wearing the same number 14 that Brian wore. “It’s just a great honor to put that sweater on and go out there and play a game you’ve been playing your whole life and dreaming of,” said the 27-year-old Gionta. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the win.” Rangers’ defenseman Dan Girardi led all skaters in ice-time with 27:33, while Henrik Tallinder led New Jersey with 25:44. New Jersey (4-10-1) is off until Wednesday when they host Buffalo (3-9-2), while New York (7-5-1) returns to MSG to host St. Louis (7-1-2) on Sunday.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) – 33 saves, win (6), shutout (2)

#2 – Brandon Dubinsky (NYR) – 2 goals (10), gw

#3 – Artem Anisimov (NYR) – 2 assists (8)

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

Avalanche & Anderson Keep Devils Winless at Home

Colorado 3             Devils 2

Playing with a full lineup for the first time in three games the New Jersey Devils fired a season-high 43 shots on goal and still lost 3-2 to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night at the Prudential Center. Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson was the star of the night, turning aside 41 shots as the Devils home record fell to 0-2-1. “It’s a little tough when we’ve been starting games the way we have, especially the last two games — out-shooting our opponents 10-0 or 15-3 — and we don’t get anything, it’s hard to get momentum,” said Anderson’s opposition Martin Brodeur. “The frustration builds up as the game goes on if you don’t put the puck in the net early. It’s definitely a little tough for the guys, but I think we worked through it and got a lot of chances. Not everybody is going to play like Jacques Plante against us every night.”

The loss spoiled a night of first for some of New Jersey’s young talent — rookie blueliner Matt Taormina scored his first NHL goal and had his first multi-point effort, while fellow rookie and defenseman Matt Corrente earned his first NHL point, an assist.

The Devils started the game strong, badly out-shooting the Avs (10-0 at one point) and still couldn’t solve Anderson before his team finally woke up and scored the game’s first goal. New Jersey killed off 3:56 of Colin White’s four-minute double-minor penalty but Cody McLeod scored his first goal of the season when he beat Brodeur with a snap shot that the goalie said tricked him when it bounced off the ice and by him.

22 seconds after McLeod scored, he was kicked out of the game for boarding Taormina in the corner, giving the Devils a five-minute major power play. “We should have settled it down a little bit more and a little better support,” said Devils winger Patrik Elias. “We have to learn how to relax a little bit with that power play; I thought in the second period when we scored on the PP, we kind of settled down, made some real good passes and had them running around.” They continued to pepper Anderson with shots from all angles, and almost scored twice, but they ended the period trailing 1-0 despite holding a 17-3 edge in shots on goal. “We all had our opportunities on that power play, their goalie played well,” said Taormina afterwards, “that happens.”

TJ Galiardi extended the lead to 2-0 when he pounced on a loose rebound 11:48 into the second period, but it felt like 12-0 the way Anderson was playing. Three minutes later at 14:48 Taormina got New Jersey on the board with a booming slap shot that found its way through a maze of players and past Anderson. “We tell each other to shoot it on net and I did that; it’s nice to finally get one, especially on the power play,” said the 23-year-old rookie. “We played a good game, (but) we have some things that we have to fix.”

The Devils entered the third period down by one, but quickly found themselves down by two again. “I think that we had maybe ten minutes in the second and the first ten minutes in the third we were kind of flat,” said an unfazed Elias. “Not every game is going to go perfect, but we have to push each other. One line has to get good chances and we have to follow that up; I think we can push each other a little more.” Chris Stewart (who now has four points in three career games vs. NJ) blasted a slap shot past Brodeur’s glove hand at 4:31 for his second goal of the season.

Taormina then assisted on an Ilya Kovalchuk goal (for the second game in a row) to bring New Jersey back within one goal. The rookie fired a long pass to Kovalchuk who raced into the zone and snapped a wrist shot through Anderson, leaving the Devils with 11:15 left in the game to try to find the equalizer — which they never found. “I think we’re playing well. It’s just a matter of getting breaks offensively on our side,” said Brodeur. “I think these breaks, eventually we’re going to get, and we’ll solve some of the flaws that we have in our zone.”

The loss means that for the second consecutive year New Jersey (1-2-2) has dropped its first three home games; they will try again Saturday night when they host Boston (1-1-0). Colorado (3-1-0) continues their road trip and will play at the New York Islanders (1-1-2) the same night.

Game Notes: This is the second year in a row the New Jersey has lost their only meeting with Colorado. Taormina led all skaters in ice-time with 24:42 and Kyle Quincey led the Avalanche with 22:52.  Kovalchuk led all players with seven shots on goal, while Daniel Winnik and Paul Stastny led the Avs with three apiece. Despite trailing in face-offs 2-9 after the first period the Devils finished the game 33-22. Rookie center Jacob Josefson (20th overall, 2009) made his NHL debut and saw 15:13 of ice-time, had one shot on goal and was 5-5 on face-offs. Stastny now has five points (1g-4a) in four career games against New Jersey.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Craig Anderson (Col) – 41 saves, win (2-1-0)

#2 – TJ Galiardi (Col) – goal (1), assist (1)

#3 – Matt Taormina (NJ) – pp goal (1), assist (2)

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

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-Flyers Postgame Quotes [04.22.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 3-0 Game 5 loss to the Flyers:

Andy Greene:

Can you put your finger on any one thing that went wrong during the series?

“It’s never just one thing when you get beat like that; it’s a combination of things. Special teams were a big factor, they had some big power play goals and some big stops and vice versa — we didn’t get the goals we needed on the PP and we let in a few goals on the PK, this time of year that’s what it’s about.”

The Flyers dominated you all season, beating you in 9 of 11 games this year, can you explain why?

“No, I don’t know; it’s just one of those match-ups. Like you said, for some reason they did and continued to these last two weeks.”

How disappointing is it to come into a must-win game and you can’t get a goal past Brian Boucher?

“It’s frustrating, we had good chances but we didn’t get one.”

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about the Flyers…

“They competed the whole way through, you have to really give them a lot of credit; even though we have to look at ourselves, that’s for sure, but you can’t overlook what they did.”

When you notice the way that they’re playing, in contrast was there something missing from your side?

“Well obviously; I think the urgency, the desperation. We had it in parts of games, but never full games and that came to haunt us. You look at just the second goal, it’s just a one-on-one and we blocked the shot and the next thing you know everybody collapsed and it’s a shot where two guys, my players, screened me and it went in. These things, in the playoffs, usually don’t happen; you fight through them to get a block or do something. It wasn’t in the cards for us this time around.”

The last two years it’s been the same thing pretty much, are the demons still there?

“Well, again, we’re not doing anything to give ourselves a chance to be successful. This playoff series, all throughout, it was tough; it’s bounces. When you don’t get bounces you have to find a way to get them; I think losing in overtime — that was the killer for us.”

How do you look back on 2010, with reaching 600 wins, the Olympics and now this?

“I don’t know, I guess up and down. The regular season has been pretty good, had a great experience in Vancouver; regardless of me not playing. It’s pretty tough to do, for 12 years in a row to be on top of Canada playing goal; sometimes someone might be better and that’s okay with me. I had a great, great time over there; I took my time to rest and I think it paid off for me in the last stretch of the season. Again, it’s all about playoffs — there will be 29 teams feeling exactly the way I’m feeling right now. There will be one team that will be ecstatic this year; you have to put that in perspective. But at the same time, when you have opportunities and you feel that your organization is making moves to get yourself in a position to be successful, and you fold in five (games), it’s just not right.”

Colin White:

Did the early goal just crumble all of your hope?

“No it doesn’t, you’re chasing again, but at the same time, no there’s a lot of hockey to still be played. To win a game you have to score at least one, so one goal really doesn’t matter.”

Are you shocked by the early exit?

“Obviously yeah; it sucks.”

Do you think you had a team that could go deep? I know it’s only been a few minutes, but do you think the team maybe wasn’t as good as you thought?

“You know what I can’t pinpoint one thing; lots of things go wrong to lose four games in a series. Not just one thing, especially that way — four games to one, we didn’t give ourselves much of a chance.”

What do you think the turning point of the series was?

“Like I said, I can’t pinpoint one thing; we aren’t happy with our performance. That’s the bottom line right now, I don’t make up excuses or reasons why, we just didn’t get it done.”

Peter Laviolette:

What decided the series primarily?

“It’s hard just to say one thing. I thought our PK was real good; we had to use it quite a bit. I liked the way we played 5-on-5; it seemed like it was broken up because there were so many penalties, but I liked what we did 5-on-5 defensively and offensively. I thought our goaltender played extremely well.”

How surprised are you, if surprised at all with the way Boucher played?

“I don’t think we’re that surprised about anything with our game down the stretch, including Boucher. I’ve said it before that in order to get to this position to play in the first round we had to play really well down the stretch; there was a lot of games where I thought he and the team played extremely well. We’ve been in playoff-mode for a long-time, a long time. A month really, then we kind of lost our way a little bit and came back in the last two weeks and had to grind out everything that we did. That prepared us probably a little bit.”

Claude Giroux’s game tonight and his play in the series…

“He had a terrific game. We talked to him this morning, I remember back two months ago, we were talking and he told me that he wanted responsibility; we revisited that conversation this morning with some veterans out of the lineup now. I thought that he responded with a tremendous game, in a big situation — he was a very, very good player for us.”

Can you talk about some of the sacrifices that your team made during this series?

“The amount of shots that we blocked in the series and the guys – I’ll guarantee that Lappy (Ian Laperierre) would have been back on the bench if they had been able to get him stitched up in time. He and (Blair) Betts, all of them, but he and Betts do such a tremendous job; they’re the front line in all of those blocks, (Mike) Richards, (Simon) Gagne. Really I said this before, we’ve been successful because our team is committed to it, it’s been a group that’s shown a lot of heart and a lot of character — to get into the playoffs — and then to get through this first round against a very good New Jersey team and those are examples of it.”

This team was fragile mentally earlier this season, but now it seems like nothing fazes them, what changed?

“There was ups and downs, a lot of things went on with the Flyers this year; even when I first got here we went right down to 14th in the conference, so it was an uphill grind and a battle. You lose some goaltenders along the way, you lose some people along the way, we lost our way a little bit at times. But there was a time from before Christmas right up until the time we had lost a couple of key figures in our lineup, where we were probably one of the top two or three teams in the league — for over a two-and-a-half, three-month stretch – we were playing really well. Then we lost (Jeff) Carter, (Michael) Leighton went down and Boosh came in — once he found his game he seemed to get back on track; and he hadn’t played in a while. You have to give him a lot of credit because he hung in there and has played extremely well. Tonight he looked extremely confident in net, like it wasn’t a question; he was in charge of his crease, he was in charge of the puck and I think eventually we found our way, after the first Carter injury. Our team dug in and started to play better hockey down the stretch; we won some big games and carried that into the playoffs.”

Jacques Lemaire:

Can you sum up your feelings about what happened?

“It’s frustrating not to be, in the next few days back on the ice, playing. I felt that we could have played better; we did not play playoff-hockey. Philly did a lot better job in that department. It is a little frustrating because all along I thought that we had a good team; I didn’t see this team play at their best. I don’t think I’ve seen this team play at their best yet for a period of time — a game here and there but not sustain it.”

Brodeur alluded to something like that; do you think there are players who let you down?

“Did the players let me down? I know some of the guys they give their heart, they played really hard the whole way; so I’m looking more at these players.”

You said that you thought the team wasn’t consistent, what can you point to as a reason why?

“I think it’s what we’ve been asking, we’ve been asking certain things and it seems it wasn’t done; something else was done. It’s like the PP as an example, we had before the game a certain way to do when you get the puck at the blue line, and we had a few PP’s, we had a few — quite a few. We did it once, at a time I asked a player why are we not doing it? And there was no answer.”

Is it frustrating coming into an elimination game and your team can’t score a goal?

“Especially on the PP; I think we had good chances, we moved the puck well. We didn’t get any bounces, everyone could see that. All along the series, the PP we moved the puck well but couldn’t score and I think today was the closest ones that we could get a goal; and we didn’t. Because the bounces, puck doesn’t go the right way, we miss the open net, things like that. But that happens when you don’t have everyone believing in what you have to do to win; that will happen.”

I know you weren’t here the last two years, but do you think this team can’t reach that level of playoff-hockey to get out of Round 1?

“I can’t speak for the past years, this year I mentioned it’s being able to believe in what we’ll do and play playoff-hockey. There’s not ten ways to play in the playoffs, there’s not; there’s one way to play — that’s how we need to play, otherwise we have no chance to win. We didn’t play that way.”

Your captain was very unproductive, what are your thoughts about the way he led the team; he didn’t seem to be inspiring?

“From your view, because you’re outside; I think Jamie (Langenbrunner) is doing a lot of things inside with the guys that even us coaches are not aware of. He’s been a good captain, from day one, so I don’t know why he would turn the other way.”

How much do you want Ilya Kovalchuk back?

“He’s a big piece of this club, you can see what he does — he’s a threat every time he’s on the ice. This will be up to Lou (Lamoriello) and him as far as what they want to do.”

He said he was very enthused about what he learned from you, he was very happy and said he wanted to come back…

“I like to hear that.”

Were the Flyers better than a 7-seed?

“There was what seven games, seven wins difference between them and us during the season. Both teams had a lot of injuries and seven games out of 82 is not a lot. You look at all of the playoffs (series) the difference is very thin; you only have one or two teams that is supposed to be up top and you could see — look at Washington when the playoff started, they had some questions. San Jose is exactly the same thing, and they’re the top two teams — and not by seven games, by more than that.”

Last year at this time you weren’t coaching, after this is this where you want to be?

“This is something I’ve been doing for a long time and I enjoy to be around the players, try to make them play as well as they can play; try to find ways to make them play as a team. It’s a great life that’s why I love it.”

You said they didn’t play playoff-hockey, were you surprised or did you see this coming?

“Not the first game, not the second game, but there were still things that we weren’t doing in these two (games). I thought as we went on we would correct that, and we didn’t. There are little things — battles here, battles there, the sharpness of the individual, being really positive on everything, when you try do certain things, change certain things you have their look that tells you they understand and they want to do it. It was a little lacking there.”

Devils’ Season Ends with a Thud

Here is my recap of the Devils 3-0 loss to the Flyers in Game 5, ending their season. I will have a season-ending roster report in the coming days:

Philadelphia 3               Devils 0

The New Jersey Devils have officially become the NHL’s version of baseball’s Atlanta Braves: they have one of the best records in the league year in and year out, but haven’t found a way to get even close to the Stanley Cup Finals since 2003. By losing to the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in five games, it became the third consecutive postseason in which the Devils failed to advance at least one round.

The Flyers (picked by no one to win the series) won in convincing fashion in the clinching Game 5 by a score of 3-0, without two of their best players — Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter — who both suffered foot injuries in Game 4. “I can’t speak for the past years,” said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, “it’s being able to believe in what we’ll do and play playoff-hockey. There’s not ten ways to play in the playoffs, there’s not; there’s one way to play — that’s how we need to play, otherwise we have no chance to win. We didn’t play that way.”

Making matters worse for New Jersey, they were eliminated for the third straight spring in their brand-new, shiny, three-year-old arena, forcing their faithful fans to endure watching another post-game handshake on the Prudential Center ice; they are now 3-7 in ten playoff games at the Rock. When asked if he was shocked by yet another early summer vacation, Devils defenseman Colin White gave a simple explanation that summed it all up, “Obviously yeah; it sucks. Lots of things go wrong to lose four games in a series. Not just one thing, especially that way — four games to one — we didn’t give ourselves much of a chance.”

The Flyers gave the Devils an opportunity to seize control of the game (and perhaps some momentum in the series) when Dan Carcillo took an ill-advised tripping penalty just 43 seconds into the match; but New Jersey’s power play sputtered and 46 seconds after the man-advantage began it was over as captain Jamie Langenbrunner was handed an avoidable tripping minor. After a brief four-on-four, Philadelphia converted on their power play when a pass from Claude Giroux hit Daniel Briere in the skates and slipped between Devils goalie Martin Brodeur’s right skate and the goal post — giving the Flyers all of the offense they would need on this night.

New Jersey still had its chances to even the game, but they were unable to solve third-string goalie Brian Boucher who soundly outplayed Brodeur in four of the five games. In the second period, still down just one goal, the Devils fired nine shots at Boucher and they were rebuffed each time. “Tonight he looked extremely confident in net, like it wasn’t a question,” said coach Peter Laviolette of his goaltender. “He was in charge of his crease; he was in charge of the puck.” In contrast the Flyers were held to only four shots on goal in the middle period — and scored twice on Brodeur in a span of 1:59, both by 2010 Devil-killer Giroux (six points in five games).

The only Devils players who never seemed to give up throughout the night were Ilya Kovalchuk (seven shots on goal) and Dainius Zubrus (four), but they needed more help that never came in a must-win game. Lemaire pretty much admitted after the game that he could tell his players weren’t ready to battle like the Flyers were. “There are little things — battles here, battles there, the sharpness of the individual, being really positive on everything, when you try do certain things, change certain things you have their look that tells you they understand and they want to do it. It was a little lacking there.”

Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac had horrible series, Zach Parise might as well been invisible because he never could get around the imposing Chris Pronger, and Patrik Elias never found his scoring touch (four assists, no goals, -2) in any of the five games. “It’s never just one thing when you get beat like that; it’s a combination of things,” explained disappointed Devils defenseman Andy Greene. “Special teams were a big factor, they had some big power play goals and some big stops and vice versa — we didn’t get the goals we needed on the PP and we let in a few goals on the PK, this time of year that’s what it’s about.”

For New Jersey, it was another Cup-dream shattered as reality smacked them in the face and sent them packing before May 1 for the third consecutive season. “There will be 29 teams feeling exactly the way I’m feeling right now,” said Brodeur. “There will be one team that will be ecstatic this year; you have to put that in perspective. But at the same time, when you have opportunities and you feel that your organization is making moves to get yourself in a position to be successful, and you fold in five (games), it’s just not right.”

Game 5 Hero: Claude Giroux

Game 5 Goat: Martin Brodeur

Game Notes: After winning the World Series in 1995, the Atlanta Braves were eliminated ten straight years without a title, losing five times in the first round; they’ve now failed to qualify for the postseason over the last four seasons after a 14-year run of playoff appearances. The Devils have made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, won nine Atlantic Division titles, 12 100-point seasons, three Stanley Cups; they have failed to get past the second round since 2003, with three straight first round exits (2008-Rangers, 2009-Hurricanes, 2010-Flyers) and their record in postseason games since 2003 is 16-26, 6-16 over their last 22. Elias has just two even-strength goals over his last 27 postseason games. New Jersey finished the series 4-for-32 on the PP (12.5%) and Philadelphia was 8-for-29 (27.6%). Pronger led all skaters in ice-time with 28:49 and Kovalchuk led the Devils with 24:45; Pronger also had a game-high six blocked shots, New Jersey only had five total as a team. Kovalchuk led all players with seven shots on goal and Giroux led Philadelphia with four. Flyers captain Mike Richards led all players in the series with eight points (2g-6a) and Kovalchuk led the Devils with six points (2g-4a). Philadelphia is the first team to advance to the second round this postseason and will likely play the top-seeded Washington Capitals.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Claude Giroux (Phil) – 2 goals (4), assist (2)

#2 – Daniel Briere (Phil) – gw/pp goal (2), assist (3)

#3 – Mike Richards (Phil) – 2 assists (6)

Dan Rice covers the New Jersey Devils & NHL for NYCSportsnetwork.com and IslesNation.com. He can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Devils-Flyers Postgame Quotes [04.16.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 5-3 Game 2 win over the Flyers:

Dainius Zubrus:
What about playing with Zach and Patrik, something you haven’t done too much of?

“Well it’s not exactly a new line because in the past couple of weeks, we’ve played quite a few games together. We had some success, me and Zach, and our centers were switched every now and then — sometimes it’s Travis (Zajac), sometimes it’s Patrik; we try to get on the pucks, try to play in their end as much as we can and not give them too many easy shifts against us. He (Zach) is obviously a great player, he’s on the puck all the time; it’s kind of easy to read him because he goes so hard every single time. So I try to not be too far from him so I can help him out to recover some pucks and try to get some shots.”

Zach Parise:

After you get the shorthanded goal early, is your confidence soaring?

“Yeah, when you get that early, first one, you’re more comfortable with the puck; you’re more comfortable to make plays, the game kind of slows down a bit for you. I think that was the case tonight.”

Did you guys learn you can’t take penalties against them tonight?

“Well I think that’s how it is this time of year no matter what; they have a good power play. It just seemed like every time we turned around for some reason, we were in the box. It really can take a toll on individual players, and it can really kill momentum too. We did a good job on our PK and we got the shorthanded goal too, so we did fine.”

Can you talk about the pass that Patrik made to you on your goal?

“Great pass. He saw me with a step on (Chris) Pronger and he was able to get it through (Matt) Carle; it was a great play. He sent me in alone on a breakaway.”

Talking about the play at the end of the game where the winning goal was scored…

“Zubie made a really good power move to the net and that’s what he brings to our line, what he brings to this team; he was able to chip it over the goalie’s shoulder there.”

Matthew Corrente:

How do you feel after your first playoff game?

“I was waiting for someone to come over to talk to me. It was awesome, it’s great to get a win and it was really intense out there; fortunately we came out on top.”

So that means you were the secret ingredient? Game 1 you don’t play, they lose, Game 2 you play they win…

“I’d like to think I contributed to the win, but everyone played well. It was a good team effort and we played solid for 60 minutes and got the win.”

The PK was sharp tonight and Marty was there to clean up anything else right?

“Guys stepped up when they needed to and that’s what it’s going to win playoff games. You find that out pretty quick, it feels good, but there’s a lot of work ahead of us.”

How long before you settled down during the game, if at all?

“There were a couple of butterflies I guess, at the start, but I played in a couple of games with these guys (12 games). After the first couple of shifts were out of the way, I felt good, I felt like I was in the game.”

When did you find out you were going to be in the lineup?

“I found out this morning at the pre-game skate; I was pretty pumped to hear that.”

Ilya Kovalchuk:

Talking about his penalties…

“Today I took a couple, especially the third penalty, maybe I should stay away from it; but we won the game, so who cares.”

It was the end of your shift right?

“Yeah we were leading by a goal, so I should’ve…but should’ve, would’ve; you know. But we got the win and who cares.”

Will you be a little more relaxed because you got the empty net goal?

“You know I would be relaxed if we won 4-3; I just got a chance, crossed the red line and shoot for the empty net. I saw (Jeff) Carter broke his stick so, it was nice to get a two-goal lead.”

What happened with Mike Richards on your second penalty?

“He was slashing and stuff, but its okay, its part of the game. He’s a tough player to play against and we have to watch him.”

Were you trying to get him to fight?

“Well, you never know (smiles).”

Patrik Elias:

Talking about playing on the PK with Parise…

“It was the first time, maybe all season, that me and Zach were out there on the PK together. So we kind of stayed on top of them, forced them to make mistakes. I had a great opportunity in the second period, we read off of each other real well tonight.”

Was the second period you team’s best period this series?

“I don’t know; I thought we played well in the first and third periods last game, we just didn’t score. Same thing today, we had a couple of goals, but at the same time we had a lot more opportunities. We just have to stay with it; it’s up and down throughout the games, throughout the playoffs, we just have to stay the course.”

What do you expect for Game 3 when you go to Philly?

“A lot of excitement, a lot of energy from their side and we just have to match it. We have to go in there and just play; focus on the job. They’ll be feeding off of their crowd, it will be loud — we just have to stay in control and play our game.”

Martin Brodeur:

Your thoughts on your team’s PK tonight…

“Gutsy, I think that’s the bottom line. We showed a lot of character, a lot of poise; we blocked shots, surviving — that’s playoff hockey. I think we really showed that we’re able to do that and I think we showed each other a little more than maybe anybody else. When you play intense, good things will happen.”

Down 2-0 would not be a good position to be in…

“For sure, especially going to Philly, it would’ve made our lives a little more difficult, but we’re really happy that it’s 1-1. We have to put our work boots on have a great performance in Philly over the next four days.”

Did you guys as a group recognize that Kovalchuk hadn’t won a (playoff) game and that it might’ve been in the back of his mind?

“Well we knew because he had only four games experience and if you have only four games experience (laughs) you didn’t win too many games, usually. It means a lot for him to be here; it’s funny, you almost want to talk to him like a little kid, but he’s not. He’s a guy that has a lot of experience; he’s scored a lot of goals, played a lot of minutes and was responsible for a whole organization for eight years or so. Now he comes in (here) and it’s a different step in his career. Definitely for him to get that monkey off his back, people talk about it all the time when you don’t perform in the playoffs or you’re not on the winning side. So I’m sure he’s really excited to get it out of the way and he showed what type of player he is — he was all over the ice, he was aggressive, such a big guy. It looks good for us when you see a top player getting himself involved like that.”

Were you surprised by his aggressiveness today?

“Well we’ve played him in the past and he was really aggressive. When things are not going your way, you have to find a way to make it happen, I think by playing physical, with his size, he’s going to create some havoc around and people will try to go after him and that’s how he’s going to excel; he gets himself in the game.”

Jacques Lemaire:

You got your big goal-scorer going tonight, Colin White

“(smiles) It’s funny that you talk about this, but in the playoffs you need that type of goals from different people, different players that you don’t expect. He’s one of them.”

What was the difference from tonight and Game 1?

“Well definitely the PK that we had; six out of seven penalties. I think we did a pretty good job considering that they scored on too many men, and PP. We scored one on the PP and one shorthanded; I think the guys battled well. We got too many penalties at different times, the whole game, but these type of games will happen.”

Did Zubrus score his goal because of his reach?

“I know he reached, but I thought Zach had that goal. But I thought he made a good move in bringing the puck to the front of the net.”

What did you think about Marty in the third period?

“He gave us a chance to win by making that huge save in the slot; the one-timer that I think was from (Ian) Laperierre that shot it. That was a huge save; otherwise they would’ve taken the lead.”

How would you describe Kovalchuk’s game tonight?

“I like Kovy, he might do some weird things according you guys; to me, he just lacks some experience in the playoffs, that’s all that he’s missing. There’s certain things he needs to watch — you can’t get tangled with a guy that plays ten minutes and have to sit out for two. Not when you’re one of the top players, so you have to stay away from that.”

Did you like what you saw from Elias tonight with his 3-assist performance?

“Patrik is playing really well, especially tonight there — moves the puck, controls the puck. When you’re looking at the players he’s playing against, he did a tremendous job.”

Your thoughts on how Corrente played tonight?

“I think he played fine; I just wanted to see, I had really a good memory what he did when he was with us during the season; I always talk to Lou (Lamoriello) about him, when he’s going to come up and so on. I said I’d like to try him and see what he can do on the wing, and that was why he played. His game, he played fine — he got even a scoring chance, which is nice from a guy like this.”

Were you okay with the all of the penalties called tonight?

“Uhhhhhh. Uhhhhhh. I can’t talk about it; I would love to, but I can not talk about this.”