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

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Game 3/Game 4 …

Here’s how I saw Game 3 of the New Jersey Devils-Philadelphia Flyers series and what I expect for Game 4 on Tuesday night:

Game 3:
-Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk had two assists, but no shots on goal (!) & led the team in ice-time with 27:30.
-New Jersey sat defenseman Martin Skoula (who had a shaky 1st 2 games) in favor of rookie Mark Fraser and the move didn’t work; Fraser was responsible for Philly’s second goal when he allowed Simon Gagne to muscle him off the puck behind the net. Coach Jacques Lemaire said after the game that Skoula will return to the lineup in Game 4.
-With the loss, the Devils are now 0-4 in the Wachovia Center this season and Martin Brodeur hasn’t won a game there since January 22, 2008.
-With the loss coming in overtime, Brodeur’s career record is 12-21 in playoff overtime; the most OT losses in NHL history.
-Flyers captain Mike Richards has six points (2g,4a) in three games; Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner has only one assist in the first three games. Just saying maybe Jamie should have played that night in Carolina, because he hasn’t been the same since.
-Philly’s duo of Daniel Briere and Jeff Carter have fired a combined 19 shots on Brodeur over the first three games and have a total of 0 points in the series.
-Game 3 Hero: Dan Carcillo, right place +right time = OT winner
-Game 3 Goat: David Clarkson, no matter how lame the penalty was, it never should have happened; ESPECIALLY IN OVERTIME!
-Devils wasted a solid performance by Brodeur (31 saves), but they can tie the series with a win Tuesday night.

Game 4
-Expect better games from Patrik Elias and Zach Parise, who weren’t really a factor in Game 3 where New Jersey only mustered 19 shots on goal; they both responded with great Game 2’s after sub-par Game 1’s.
-Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger will lead his team in ice-time and will probably get at least one point.
-Look for Devils defenseman Paul Martin and Philly winger Scott Hartnell to have an impact in Game 4, Martin will assist on the game-winning goal.

Devils Even Series With 5-3 Win Over Flyers

Here is my recap of the Devils 5-3 Game 2 win against Philadelphia on Friday night:

Devils Even Series With 5-3 Win Over Flyers

Devils 5 Philadelphia 3

If a team expects to make a long postseason run with dreams of winning a Stanley Cup, they need to get goals from their stars — and the unexpected hero needs to score every now and then. Sure it was huge for New Jersey that Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk scored their first goals of the series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night at Prudential Center, but the first question Devils coach Jacques Lemaire was asked after his squad’s 5-3 Game 2 win wasn’t about either one of them.

Q: You got your big goal-scorer going tonight, Colin White. “It’s funny that you talk about this,” said Lemaire with a grin, “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.”

New Jersey had five different goal-scorers in the win as they evened the series at one game apiece and now they head to Philadelphia for the next two games. “We have to go in there and just play; focus on the job,” said Patrik Elias, who had a great game with three assists. “They’ll be feeding off of their crowd, it will be loud — we just have to stay in control and play our game.”

Parise started the scoring 2:45 into the game when he converted a perfect pass from Elias on a shorthanded breakaway, beating Flyers goalie Brian Boucher with a rising backhand shot. “It was a great pass,” said Parise. “He saw me with a step on (Chris) Pronger and he was able to get it through (Matt) Carle; great play. He sent me in alone on a breakaway.” The 1-0 Devils lead lasted until 9:33 when ex-Devil Arron Asham beat Martin Brodeur after a cross-ice pass from Claude Giroux.

It was Giroux almost six minutes later that gave Philly its first lead of the night when he deflected Carle’s shot from the circle through Brodeur’s legs on the power play. The Flyers carried the 2-1 lead into the second period despite being out-shot (11-7) for the third time in four periods of the series. White evened the game again 3:44 into the middle period when his long shot found its way through a maze of players and past Boucher for his first goal in 101 playoff games.

Another defenseman, this time Andy Greene, scored at 13:25 to restore the one-goal lead for the Devils, when he redirected Elias’ centering pass into the net on a power play. “Patrik is playing really well, especially tonight there — moves the puck, controls the puck,” said Lemaire. “When you’re looking at the players he’s playing against, he did a tremendous job.” Philadelphia battled back and tied it at 3-3 with a power play goal when Pronger deflected Kimmo Timonen’s past Brodeur with 1:12 left in the period.

The Flyers controlled the play for most of the third period and could’ve taken a lead if not for Brodeur’s save on Ian Laperierre’s one-timer from the slot with 8:40 remaining. “He gave us a chance to win by making that huge save in the slot,” said Lemaire. “Otherwise they would’ve taken the lead.”

The game seemed destined for overtime until Dainius Zubrus used his big body (6’5”, 225 lbs.) to force his way to the front of the net with the puck. “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,” said Parise. “He was able to chip it over the goalie’s shoulder there.” The replays show Parise and Zubrus simultaneously hitting the puck with their sticks, but both players admitted afterwards they didn’t care who scored the goal — just that the goal was scored.

Kovalchuk finished off a three-point performance (and a night that saw him take three minor penalties) when he deposited a shot from center-ice into the empty Flyers net with 32.9 seconds left, sealing the Game 2 win for his team; his first playoff win in six career games. “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,” said Brodeur.

Lemaire shared the same sentiments about Kovalchuk, saying, “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.” But coach Lemaire didn’t like the fact that one of his stars was getting tangled with a part-time player (Darroll Powe) on the opposition. “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.”

Game Notes: Rookie defenseman Matthew Corrente made his postseason debut for New Jersey and played forward on the fourth line; he had one shot on goal in 5:14. Pronger led all skaters in ice-time with 27:26 and Travis Zajac led the Devils with 22:41. Parise led all players with six shots on goal and Jeff Carter led the Flyers with five, but was a -3; Only six skaters in the game did not record a shot on goal (Blair Betts and Oskars Bartulis for Philly/ Pierre-Luc Leblond, Bryce Salvador, Mike Mottau and Martin Skoula for New Jersey). Boucher finished with 28 saves and Brodeur made 26 saves in his 99th career playoff win. Game 3 is Sunday night at 6pm in Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center.

Game 2 Hero: Patrik Elias

Game 2 Goat: Jeff Carter

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 3 assists (3)

#2 – Dainius Zubrus (NJ) – gw goal (1)

#3 – Zach Parise (NJ) – sh goal (1), assist (2)

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

Devils-Flyers Preview

The New Jersey Devils will square off against their division-rivals the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning on Wednesday night at Prudential Center. The two teams have met three prior times in the postseason: New Jersey beat Philadelphia in the 1995 (six games) and 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (seven games) and the Flyers bested the Devils in five games in 2004’s opening round.

This past season, Philly dominated the Devils during the six-game season series with a 5-1 edge (outscoring them 20-13), but struggled to make the postseason — qualifying on the season’s final day. “For us it means nothing, for them it means everything; that’s the way you look at those things,” said New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner of the one-sided season series. “They obviously had our number during the regular season, they did things that took us off our game — we’re going to have to address that, we’re going to have to understand the way they play and play accordingly.

Offense: Both teams are filled with goal-scorers who can get hot and carry their teams to a series win. New Jersey’s top two lines will contain any combination of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus, while Philadelphia will roll out the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux. Both teams also have valuable grinders who could turn out to be the unsung heroes in this series – look for David Clarkson (Devils) and Ian Laperierre (Flyers) to both have an impact at some point during the series.

Edge: Even. As I stated, both teams have some serious firepower when clicking on all cylinders so it will be interesting to see which team (if any) struggles to find their goal scoring touch.

Defense: The Devils have played with a so-called ‘no-name’ defense corps since Brian Rafalski departed for Detroit, but this season they allowed the fewest goals in the entire NHL (191) and they did while their best defenseman (Paul Martin) missed 59 games. The Flyers have a collection of nasty blueliners (Chris Pronger, Braydon Coburn) and talented (Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle) that are all tough to play against. “It’s going to be tough, it doesn’t matter who you play; it’s going to be a tough series,” said Clarkson after learning his Devils would tangle with the Flyers. “A team like that, you know you’re going into war and that’s what we’re going to do in here. We’re going to play team hockey, play great defensively and give everything we have every night.”

The biggest questions facing each squad will be what kind of impact will Andy Greene and Martin Skoula have for New Jersey and will Pronger be able to stay out of the penalty box for the Flyers.

Edge: Philly. Even if the Devils survive this round, chances are that Parise, Kovalchuk and Elias may be worn down from having to deal with Pronger for possibly seven games.

Goaltending: Martin Brodeur and Brian Boucher last met in the playoffs in 2000 when the Devils rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Boucher and the Flyers at Philadelphia in Game 7. Since then Brodeur has appeared in 92 playoff contests and Boucher has only been in four. Brodeur comes into the series maybe as hot as he’s ever been to close a regular season — surrendering only seven goals over seven games, including back-to-back shutouts. Boucher (4-6-1 in last eleven starts) is basically the only goalie left standing in Philly’s crease after injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, so if he goes down the Flyers will be in deep trouble.

Edge: New Jersey. Brodeur is hot and Boucher, despite winning two of the final three games, is not.

Intangibles: The Flyers come into the series with the NHL’s third best power play (21.5%) and their penalty killers ranked 11th (83.0%). The Devils finished 11th on the PP (18.7%) and the least-penalized team in the league finished 13th on the PK (82.8%). Both coaches — Jacques Lemaire (1995 with NJ) and Peter Laviolette (2006 with Carolina) — have won a Stanley Cup, so they both know what it is going to take to guide their teams to the where they want to be. New Jersey has more experience as far as rings go, but Philadelphia has had more recent success during the postseason.

Edge: Even. The specialty teams will be a wash, but if the Flyers take reckless penalties (as they are known to do) the Devils will have to capitalize to take control of the series.

Prediction: New Jersey in 6. This will be a hard-hitting, nasty series that will leave many players on both sides battered and bruised. “It’s going to be very intense games. I know it’s a big rivalry and the rivalry is going to continue,” said Kovalchuk. I believe Brodeur will steal a game (for the first time since ‘03) in Philly and avoid sending the series back to the Rock for a Game 7.

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

Devils-Bruins Postgame Quotes [03.15.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 3-2 win over the Bruins on Monday night:

Martin Brodeur:

How’d you feel out there tonight?

“I felt good; I faced a lot of shots so it kept me busy for most of the night. The boys played pretty well even though we allowed a lot of shots, I was able to see the puck a lot; it was good.”

They had a power play at the end of the game, you had a lot of saves, but you were able to see most of them?

“Yeah, exactly; they had a little traffic there but nothing crazy and I was able to cover a few pucks and kick a few away. But it was a big kill — when you leave a team hanging around you never know what’s going to happen and it took us the full 60 (minutes) to win that game.”

Is the team starting to show a little more consistency right now?

“I think so, we definitely are playing (especially here) we had a tough time on the Island the other night; we’ve been playing well — I think more of knowing what the other guy is going to do instead of being surprised all the time by some plays. I think we are supporting each other real well, a lot better anyway than we were maybe a couple of weeks ago. We just have to keep going, I think we have to get up for every team; tonight was a big game especially with the standings — them being in the eighth spot — it kind of gave us a little leeway here. We have a big game coming up next game (too).”

Nice to get the assist?

“Yeah, it’s always nice to contribute a little bit offensively — usually they’re not nice like that (grins). We’ll take that one.”

Fourth straight win on home-ice, how nice is it to get goal support like you have been?

“The thing is you need to score goals to be successful, because teams will score goals; this game is quick, a lot of bounces everywhere. If you’re not sharp offensively, it’s going to get tough; you have to get the goals when you can. Right now at home we’ve been doing well scoring goals — we have to keep it up.”

Did you look up and look for Clarkson on that breakaway?

“Since the trapezoid, I don’t really look anymore. It’s so hard for me to turn my body, this time I was able to get the puck before the goal line and for me, that was a big opening when I saw him. I knew I just needed to get it there up in the air in case somebody tried to bat it down and that was it.”

Do you think without the trapezoid you would have more assists?

“Oh definitely; especially with no red line, no trapezoid — definitely my game would be a lot different as far as my offensive (laughs) game.”

It’s kept your offensive stats down…

“Yeah I know, they’re trying to shut me down (laughs).”

You’re getting closer to Tom Barasso’s record, you’re only 14 assists away…

“Is that what it is? Eh. If Kovy (Ilya Kovalchuk) stays with us for a few more years I’ll be able to tee it up for him a few times and I’ll get more (laughs).”

Zach Parise:

What happened on the play you scored on?

“Motts (Mike Mottau) made a good play on the point, I think he pump-faked and went around the guy and then just the puck was bouncing around and I found the rebound in front of the net.”

The team has been pretty consistent the last few games at home, any secret to the success?

“Not at all; we’re playing well at home and that’s important. The road hasn’t been as great as we need it to be, but we’re playing better and we have to make sure we’re even better for Pittsburgh (Wednesday), that’ll be a tough game.”

How do you continue your dominance against the Penguins?

“Just for whatever reason we match-up well against them and just keep doing the same things we’ve done. We’ve done a good job at containing (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, we haven’t given them too much when we’ve played them so we have to do that again Wednesday.”

David Clarkson:

Your shot when you were coming across the slot on the first goal, did that hit somebody?

“I’m not sure, I have no idea. He (Rob Niedermayer) said it didn’t, but I don’t know. I just turned and shot, you’d have to look at that yourself; I’m not sure. The bottom line is we played well and got the two points.”

What did you see on the pass that Marty made to you?

“To be honest, I couldn’t believe he made it and I knew if I didn’t score he’d make fun of me, so (laughs) when I got the puck and saw the opening, I took off and thankfully I was all alone. I thought someone was close to me, but it was just an unbelievable play by him and I think he’d probably be the only guy that could make that play — I was impressed with how nice of a pass it was.”

You scored on your backhand there…

“I saw him backing up and I figured I had room to go to my backhand and that’s kind of why I did; but like I said I was more in awe that the puck was on my stick and by the time I got to the net I knew I had to get rid of it.”

Was this one of your best games since returning from injury?

“I think it’s up there; I think San Jose I felt pretty well and against the Rangers. It’s starting to come around; when you miss three months of playing hockey, it’s not fun. It’s the most mental toughness you’ll ever have to go through as a competitor and someone that’s never been hurt before. That was the hardest thing I went through; I think I’m starting to put it behind me a bit.”
Any more significance since it was a Bruins game that you got hurt in originally?

“I wasn’t trying to think that (Zdeno) Chara was the guy that hurt me but if I had a chance to finish him I was going to try and finish him. It wasn’t his fault that he broke my leg, it was just a fluke thing, but I wasn’t really thinking about him being out there or shooting another one because that would really suck.”

Was there any point where he had the puck and you were out there with him looking like he was ready to shoot?

“No, I tried to stay closer to him. I think last game the biggest mistake I made was I was 10-15 feet away from him. You let a guy like that, that big and has the hardest shot in the league, shoot from 15 feet away something’s going to either crack or break. That was the biggest thing I did wrong last time, I gave him too much space and ended up paying the price for it.”

Did you have any flashbacks?

“No, if I did I would have been lifting my leg or playing a soft game and I can’t do that, or else I won’t be playing. I knew I had to play the same way, and not flamingo.”

I saw that you made sure to thank Marty after the pass…

“I did, I told him that I knew he’d make fun of me if I didn’t score (laughs). Like I said it was an amazing pass — I don’t know how he does that stuff, but I don’t even think he saw me in the beginning so it was just impressive that he ended up putting it on my stick.”

Big showdown coming up on Wednesday…

“Yeah Wednesday is huge; we’ve got to come out and play the same way we did tonight — with that intensity, with that physical play. It’ll be exciting to wear the red and green jerseys, to have those on. I’m excited and it’s just another game for us, but we have to start playing playoff-hockey every night; hard-nosed because this is pretty much playoffs. We’re trying to figure out where we’re going to fit in and where we’re going to sit (in the standings).”

Claude Julien:

Were you pleased with how your team responded after you made the goalie change to start the second period?

“Yeah, but the damage was done unfortunately; we dug ourselves a hole that we just couldn’t get out of.”

Jacques Lemaire:

Clarkson had a good game, do you agree?

“Yeah, he played much better, especially with the puck — he made two good moves on the first two goals. When he does skate, he has good hands, so he can do a lot of good things offensively.”

Is this the best effort you’ve seen from your team in a while?

“We played good; in the second (period) we stopped doing certain things, we slowed down just a little bit. But the first and third, I thought we played really well. Even though they came close at the end there, they had a power play and after they started to get some chances. But that team was desperate tonight, they have to win games too; I felt that we came out in the third to play to win.”

Martin Skoula picked up an assist tonight, his first with the team; how do you think he played?

“That was for his kid, his newborn baby. He played good; Skoula’s been steady since he’s been here. He makes the first pass, he’s safe — good around the net, strong along the boards. I like the way he played; as long as he keeps playing like this, if he doesn’t turn the puck over, I know he’s going to play well.”