Zubrus & Devils Are Ready For the 2011-12 Season

The New Jersey Devils won their preseason finale on Saturday night, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in front of 12,729 fans at the Prudential Center. Next Saturday night, the two teams meet again in the Devils’ season opener asNew Jerseytries to rebound from a very disappointing 2010-11 season that saw them miss the postseason for the first time in 16 seasons.

Martin Brodeur made 25 saves in his final tune-up before the real games start, his only blemish of the night was a Scott Hartnell power play goal late in the first period. Petr Sykora, still with the Devils on a tryout basis, tied the game when he blasted a shot over Ilya Bryzgalov’s stick hand 4:12 into the second period and David Clarkson’s power play marker at 15:39 of the middle frame proved to be the game-winner.

Stud rookie d-man Adam Larsson led all skaters in ice-time, logging23:46, and he played a solid game quarterbacking the power play and never looked out of place once against the Flyers.

For Dainius Zubrus, who missed the first five games of the preseason with an undisclosed lower body injury, he admitted he was rusty, but was happy to be back in game action. “In the first period I was trying to get into a rhythm,” said Zubrus. “I don’t want to call it nervous or whatever, but it was my first game in a while. I settled down after that and in the second and third periods I think I was a little better.” He didn’t register a shot on goal and had 21 shifts for 16:10 in ice-time centering a line with Clarkson and Mattias Tedenby. When I asked how he felt after the game he smiled and said, “Like I hadn’t played in six months.”

Zubrus believes this team will move past the disappointing season last year and get back into playoff contention. “Honestly I didn’t think much about last season. Even though the second half, whatever blah blah blah, it was good, but at the end of the day still we were at home in April watching TV,” he said. “It was a long summer, saying that, you try to spend that time with the family. I was able to practice and train hard to get ready for this season. You always look forward to the upcoming season and you want to make it better than the previous one, and there is a lot of room (for us) to improve.”

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 25 saves

#2 – Petr Sykora (NJ) – goal

#3 – Adam Larsson (NJ)

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

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Hedberg Stands Tall as Devils Outlast Flyers

Devils 2 Philadelphia 1 — shootout

Despite losing to the New York Islanders 2-0 at the Nassau Coliseum on Black Friday (snapping their modest two-game winning streak) the New Jersey Devils were able to rebound and beat the division-leading Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 2-1 in a shootout 24 hours later at Prudential Center. The Devils have now won four in a row at home and the last three of those can directly be attributed to the play in goal by Johan Hedberg who has surrendered only two goals in the three games, stopping 83 of the 85 shots he has faced. “He’s been incredible. It seems like he’s a goalie that the more shots he gets, the better he is,” said New Jersey’s Travis Zajac. “Today, they got a lucky one on him, other than that he’s been making key saves for us in key situations of games.”

Just 1:52 into the game the Flyers found themselves shorthanded for four minutes when Scott Hartnell smacked Brian Rolston in the head with his stick. Although the Devils didn’t score on the power play they gained some early territorial momentum and had seven shots on goal before Philly had registered its first of the day. Adam Mair scored his first goal of the season at 11:49, snapping a wrist shot past Flyers goalie Brian Boucher’s stick hand to give New Jersey the early 1-0 lead. “It feels great; I’ve had some chances,” said Mair afterwards. “As a hockey player, you always like to score; you always like to help contribute offensively.”

Philadelphia out-shot the Devils 41-18 for the game after the first eight minutes but they were never able to solve Hedberg until Daniel Briere scored the tying goal from behind the goal line 8:38 into the third period, his 12th of the season. “He just shot it at me,” said Hedberg. “I think he shot it from the side of the net, it bounced up and hit my thigh and went in. It’s just one of those things.”

After a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout where the first two shooters on each team were turned aside without a goal — Ilya Kovalchuk and Mattias Tedenby for New Jersey, Claude Giroux and Briere for Philly. Nikolay Zherdev beat Hedberg through his five-hole, putting pressure on Jason Arnott to keep the game alive for his fellow Devils. “I just had it in my head what I was going to do all along and it helps when you have it in your head what you are going to do,” confessed Arnott. “I knew Boucher was going down a little bit early, and I wanted to go (top) shelf; I wanted to make sure I got it off quick and hard…and it went in.”

Flyers’ captain Mike Richards rang a wrist shot off the post in round 4 before Zajac clinched the win with his sharp wrist shot that went by Boucher so fast it hit the back of the twine and popped right back out past the Flyers netminder. “I said to myself if I got a chance I would just fake a shot, and then try to go upstairs,” said Zajac. “To be able to come back today (after Friday’s loss) and get the two points against a very good hockey team, that was important for us.”

Game Notes: Devils winger Patrik Elias missed the game because his wife Petra was giving birth to their first child, Sophia Gabriella. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 26:31, while Matt Carle led Philadelphia with 25:40. Jeff Carter, who assisted on Briere’s goal, led all players with nine shots on goal; Kovalchuk led New Jersey with eight. Flyers d-man Kimmo Timonen led all players with four blocked shots. New Jersey (8-14-2) is off until Thursday when they host Montreal (15-8-1) and Philadelphia (15-6-4) is back in action on Wednesday when they host Boston (12-7-2).

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 40 saves, win (4)

#2 – Travis Zajac (NJ) – g/w shootout goal

#3 – Daniel Briere (Phil) – pp goal (12)

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

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-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.