DGA's Devils Daily ARCHIVES

Hello and welcome to a new feature on Down Goes Avery: the Devils Daily section.  Each day, I'll post a brief write-up that reflects my opinion and the state of the team, without any limited sarcasm.  I'll sound off on some things, I'll go on rants, I may write something longer than a novel or as short as Mattias Tedenby.  Who knows, maybe I'll even praise the Devils.  Well, probably not, but you get the idea...

(A complete archive of my game recaps from the Devils Army Blog can be found here.)

MAY 20th, 2012: The Devils are not in bad shape...yet

    Nobody wants to think about yesterday's Game 3 loss to the Rangers, but that's exactly what I'm going to do. Why? Because the Devils played well yesterday, and they've been playing well for most of the series. Unfortunately, they haven't scored enough goals to be leading the series. Yet. It's not over. I'm not panicking yet. Monday's Game 4 will obviously be huge for the Devils, but if the Devils keep doing what they've been doing, they should be in pretty good shape. Here's what I mean:

    • The Devils have outplayed the Rangers in almost every statistical category, except goals. Why is this significant? Well, chances are that if they keep shooting and keep outplaying them, bounces will eventually go their way, as they did in Game 2, and they'll be able to win. The 2-1 series deficit is very deceiving in terms of on-ice play, except that one goaltender has been great (Brodeur) and the other has been that much better. If Bryzgalov was the Rangers' goalie, it'd be 3-0 Devils right now, but unfortunately, that isn't the case.
    • How have the Devils outplayed the Rangers? Well, if you're like me, you put at least some stock into advanced stats like Corsi and Fenwick. (Quick explanation: Corsi accounts for net even-strength shot attempts, including shots on goal, blocked shots, missed shots, Fenwick is similar, but minus blocked shots.) The Devils' Corsi and Fenwick numbers in Game 1 were +7 and -4, respectively, so the difference in that game was blocked shots. In Game 2, the numbers favored the Devils, +22 and +13, and they won. Yesterday, the Devils had the edge in both categories again, +23 and +17. Henrik Lundqvist was clearly the difference.
    • You don't need advanced stats to see that, either. All three games of the series were tied at some point in the third period. The Devils broke down in the third period of Game 1, and frustrated themselves. They won Game 2, but couldn't get anything past Lundqvist in Game 3, despite dramatically outshooting and outplaying the Rangers. The Devils outshot them, 36-22, also missed the net on some great chances, hit a couple of goal posts and broke sticks on other chances. It simply wasn't their day. Lundqvist won't have a 1.000 save percentage every day.
    • The Devils will also be better off keeping the games 5-on-5 as much as possible. Their power play is 1-for-12 in the series so far, and they've allowed a power play goal against in each game. The power play looked to be forcing the issue, especially late on Saturday. They over-passed and made bad decisions with the puck. Perhaps Lundqvist/the shot blocking got to their heads a bit. I'm sure the coaching staff will fix that. Besides, other than their poor special teams so far, they've been the better team at even strength, as they have been this entire playoff season. The Devils are the better team at even strength.
    • So how to solve Henrik Lundqvist? There's no simple answer here. If you asked the team, they'd probably tell you that they need to get more traffic in front of Lundqvist and get to secondary scoring chances better. As long as they remain patient and understand that he can't stop everything, they'll keep getting chances, and they'll bury them. With the quality and quantity of chances the Devils generated in Game 3, they deserved a better fate. It's not time to feel sorry for anyone, it's time to keep playing the way they have so far. Perhaps the one thing they should do in Game 4 is get in Lundqvist's face more. Literally. Even if it costs them a penalty, getting physical with him is something he doesn't want to happen. If the Devils get in his face, his modelling agency will be extremely angry.
    • The other question that should be answered is should there be a lineup change at all? Do the Devils need to insert a "tough guy" to get more of a physical edge? It's a tough question, because the fourth line has been so good, but the Devils play with respect (contrary to what John Tortorella might say), in fact, they play with too much respect, in my opinion. Brandon Prust's elbow to Anton Volchenkov's head was an incredibly dangerous and idiotic play by him. He should have been given a major and game misconduct for his actions, but good ol'NHL officials missed it again. Maybe the Devils need to stop being so nice out there and have a Janssen or Boulton send a message. Besides, if one of them gets suspended, who cares?!

    APRIL 30th, 2012Why Devils fans should not panic about losing Game 1 to Philly

    The Devils lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi's yesterday, a 4-3 overtime decision to the Flyers.  But I'm not really that worried.  Here's a few opinions and observations I took from yesterday's game (my full recap can be found here).

    • After winning in overtime in Game 6 and double-overtime in Game 7 against Florida, the Devils looked fatigued in the second half of yesterday's game.  I thought they did a pretty good job of containing the Flyers' attack for most of the second period, but by the third period, they couldn't keep up with the Flyers.  I'm not concerned about that in general.  I'd guess Pete DeBoer will have a light skate today in practice and have everyone ready to go for Tuesday night.
    • Ilya Kovalchuk's "injury" is very concerning, on the other hand.  He didn't have a shot and was "limited" to 21:20 of ice-time through overtime, which is his lowest total of the playoffs (just 14:43 of that ice time came at even strength).  He says he's fine, but there's obviously something wrong with him physically.  He has to play, because just his presence in the lineup forces the Flyers to defend him, but if he's going to fight through this injury, he's got to shoot the puck.
    • Don't believe Milbury or Jones.  They were shredding Kovalchuk yesterday, and that's just wrong.  The media is quick to compliment players who battle through injuries, but they've been harsh on Kovy.  I don't necessarily blame him for the loss yesterday.  He's trying, and although he struggled in his own end without the benefit of Zach Parise on his line, his defense didn't support him, either.
    • Zach Parise played an incredible game yesterday.  He looked like he found a new gear.  He was flying on the ice, and obviously his work ethic is never in question.  He picked up two points, but he was the Devils' best skater in general in Game 1.  With the Flyers focusing so much on Kovalchuk (as they did with Malkin against Pittsburgh), I'd expect Parise will have a big series.
    • Ilya Bryzgalov was very mediocre.  He played well in the first period, as the Devils easily could have scored two or three goals in their early surge, but Bryzgalov played pretty well early on.  He probably should have stopped the puck that did beat him, Parise's shot.  He was out of position for the Zajac goal and he got fooled by Sykora's fake shot on the third goal.  If the Flyers manage to win this series, it'll be despite Bryzgalov.  He nearly cost his team the game yesterday.
    • Now, let's quickly review the four goals against yesterday.  On the first goal, Peter Harrold pinches in to keep the puck alive in the offensive zone, and he simply lost Danny Briere in coverage.  Kovalchuk carelessly swung the puck wide of the net, and that allowed Jakub Voracek had an easy breakaway feed.  Martin Brodeur couldn't come up with the stop.
      Seconds later, Brodeur tried to do a bit too much with the puck behind his net, and turned it over to Erik Gustafsson.  That was a bad decision on Marty's part, and all five Devils skaters were out of position.  It was a pretty easy rebound goal for James van Riemsdyk.
      The third goal came on a Philly power play following an Andy Greene hooking minor.  The Devils were simply caught running around in their own end.  They allowed Claude Giroux too much time and space to load up his shot, and he beat Brodeur.
      In overtime, things went downhill as soon as the puck dropped.  Marek Zidlicky took a stupid delay of game penalty, and Brodeur stopped Hartnell to keep the game alive, then benefited from Briere kicking the puck in.  Alexei Ponikarovsky actually came close to winning it for the Devils, but then another sloppy clearing attempt by Zidlicky resulted in the turnover to Briere and he blasted it home.  I would say Brodeur should have stopped the shot, but whether you want to admit it or not, Brodeur's stick was bumped, and van Riemsdyk was the only player in that zipcode.  Of course, officials would never have wiped out two goals in Philly, and even if they had, the Flyers were buzzing and would have buried one at some point.  They deserved to win that game.
    • As poorly as the Devils played, they actually did a decent job of containing the Flyers.  After all, it took overtime for the much more rested Flyers to win the game.  The Devils need to be more disciplined, because giving six power play opportunities is not a good idea.  Then, if Brodeur is smarter with the puck and doesn't force careless passes and his defensemen display slightly more composure than Zidlicky, Harrold and others did in Game 1, the Devils can win Game 2, especially with Bryzgalov as shaky as he was.  It'll be interesting to see how the Devils respond to Game 1.  Obviously, the Penguins didn't respond well in their Game 2 in round one.
    • In my opinion, the biggest key to Game 2 is to establish the Devils' forecheck.  Whether the Flyers were "rusty" in the first period or not, the Devils forecheck gave them all kings of problems.  There's nothing wrong with getting the puck deep and forcing Bryzgalov to play the puck.  Involving Bryzgalov in the game as much as possible will benefit the Devils.  All three Devils goals in Game 1 were on low shots, particularly through the five-hole.  They need to shoot on him, force him to make those saves and get more traffic in front of the net.
    • On the flip side, the Devils need to do what they were doing in the first half of regulation: frustrate the Flyers offense.  The best way to do that is to control the puck, but the Flyers will have their surges, and the Devils need to make it difficult for the Flyers to enter the offensive zone.  I felt that the Devils tried to be a little too fancy, and they forced some ill-advised passes breaking out of their zone.  They allowed the Flyers to enter their offensive zone too easily at times.  

    APRIL 18th, 2012Some thoughts following Game 3 of the ECQF

    I predicted that the Devils would win in 5 games.  That's now impossible.  At this point, winning the series is now in question, as the Devils trail Florida, 2-1.  After blowing an early 3-0 lead last night and losing 4-3 in regulation (tied for the largest blown lead in Devils' playoff history), there are more questions than answers with this Devils team.  Here are some of my thoughts in reaction to what happened last night.

    • I know I said it after Game 2, but Anton Volchenkov's horrible play has been the biggest story of the playoffs for the Devils.  The once elite shutdown defensemen relies on his physical, slot-blocking style, but has been unable to play his game this postseason.  I didn't notice any apparent injury late in the regular season (he battled minor injuries mid-season), aside from missing the last game of the regular season due to the "flu," but that doesn't mean he's healthy now.  I understand the toughness of hockey players this time of year, but Volchenkov is hurting his team right now.  He's getting beat to loose pucks, he's not playing physical and he has screened Martin Brodeur on multiple occasions, and since he isn't blocking point shots, they're beating Marty.  The Devils are not going to win with Volchenkov in the lineup right now.  In case you aren't aware, Anton has been on the ice for 9 of the 10 Florida goals in this series (the only goal he wasn't on for was the Panthers' empty net goal in Game 2).  Volchenkov has also been on the ice for all of those goals in just 36:40 ice time in the series combined.  It's time for DeBoer to give Adam Larsson a shot (which he likely won't, based on today's practice).
    • This relates to Volchenkov again, but the Devils' penalty kill has collapsed in epic proportions so far this series.  They operated at a record 89.6% in the regular season (not to mention 15 shorthanded goals), but they've allowed 6 power play goals against on 10 power plays against.  Yes, you read that correctly, the Devils' PK is at 40% through three games.  So, what has gone wrong?  The Devils aren't winning faceoffs.  Aside from Travis Zajac, who is 35-for-55 (63.6%), the Devils' top two centers' faceoff percentages are Patrik Elias (13-for-36, 36.1%) and Adam Henrique (11-for-30, 36.7%).  Their shorthanded numbers are even worse.  Zajac is 0-for-4 taking draws shorthanded, Adam Henrique is 0-for-3, Patrik Elias is 1-for-5 and Dainius Zubrus is 0-for-3.  The Devils have won only a single faceoff shorthanded out of 15.  That is unacceptable, especially since Marcel Goc is the only Panther over 50%.  So, the Devils are losing faceoffs shorthanded, and they've been unable to aggressively chase the puck carrier.  The Panthers set up quickly and they get their shots through, since no Devils defensemen are blocking shots.
    • The Devils have also been extremely inconsistent offensively.  They've only scored goals in three of the nine periods so far.  They scored three goals in their epic first period of Game 1, two goals in the decent third period of Game 2 and three goals in the first 6:16 of Game 3.  Other than that, the Devils haven't scored any goals in six of the nine periods, and they haven't played particularly well at all throughout most of the series so far.  The Devils had a .727 winning percentage when they scored first in the regular season, but for some reason, they haven't been able to hold leads, particularly 3-0 leads, against the Panthers this year.  They blew a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 in the regular season, nearly blew a 3-0 lead in Game 1, winning 3-2 and blew a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 in Game 3.  In my opinion, they're trying to press too much for the fourth goal (I believe Martin Brodeur said that after last night) and they're getting away from their patient, puck possession, strong forechecking system.  Perhaps, when things start to get out of control, Pete DeBoer should...use his timeout.  Then, maybe he wouldn't have to use it in the final 40 seconds because his team is trailing...
    • Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene have played pretty well so far.  They're +3 and +1, respectively (even though +/- means next-to-nothing), and have each been getting lots of pucks to the net in the three games so far.  That's been nice, because many Devils forwards have not had time and space to get shots, so the Devils are relying heavily on their defensemen to create offense.  That's not ideal, as no Devils defensemen had more than Mark Fayne's four goals in the regular season, but that's exactly what the Panthers are trying to make the Devils do.
    • On the other hand, Martin Brodeur has struggled so far.  His stats (3.40 GAA, .869 save %) aren't pretty, and while he hasn't been awful, he hasn't been able to bail out his defensemen.  The Devils haven't blocked many shots in the series (again, largely due to Volchenkov's woes), and although Brodeur doesn't always like when his D-men block shots, they haven't helped him out at all this series, especially shorthanded.  Johan Hedberg allowed the one goal to Brian Campbell early on in Game 3, but he was pretty good.  DeBoer already said Brodeur will start Game 4, and he'll need to be much better if the Devils are going to salvage this series.
    • Finally, the Devils' top offensive players need to produce.  Zach Parise's effort is there every shift, and he's fired 17 shots in the three games, but he's only managed the two points he had early in Game 3.  That's still not good enough.  Ilya Kovalchuk has been invisible in the series, with the exception of the third period of Game 2.  Kovalchuk inexcusably has just six shots in three games.  Kovy seems to be repelled from the puck, and when it's on his stick, he tries to get rid of it as if it's a mosquito on him.  The Devils need the Kovy that scored 83 points in the regular season, and they need him soon now.  Patrik Elias has had an up-and-down playoff so far.  He's scored two goals (both from the same spot on the right side), but he's also struggled at times, including his self-admitted bad penalty after an icing call in Game 3.  David Clarkson has just six shots as well.  The Devils got 30 goals out of him in the regular season, and could use a few more now.  Petr Sykora, who heated up at the end of the regular season, has also disappeared in the playoffs thus far.  The Devils have a lot of scoring depth, but those five players can't be playing this poorly at the same time.
    • Game 4 is going to be one of the most important, if not, the most important game in Prudential Center history.  The Devils have a chance to tie this series, 2-2, and have a chance to take the lead in the series in Game 5, but a loss would put them down 3-1 heading back to Miami.  The Devils need this series.  They are the superior team and they need a playoff run desperately right now.  They need the revenue of the playoff run, they need it for Zach Parise's sake and for the organization's sake.  The Devils are too good, and have been since the lockout, to be bounced in the first round for the fourth straight time.  The crowd was electric in Game 3, and it figures to be the same in Game 4.  The Devils need to take advantage of that and win Game 4.

    Again, now is not the time to panic, but it is time for the Devils to play their best game of the playoffs so far.  They entered the playoffs on a tear, and it has all gone south since then.  They're still good enough to win the series, but they need to turn around their playoff misery now.

    APRIL 16th, 2012Looking back at Games 1 and 2 of the ECQF

    The Devils and Panthers have split the first two games of their playoff series, and the series moves back to new Jersey for Games 3 and 4, but before that happens, let's look back at what happened in Sunrise.

    The Devils couldn't have asked for a better start to the playoffs than their first period on Friday.  They absolutely dominated the Panthers and made Florida look like they didn't belong in the playoffs.  They scored three goals on 26 shots in the first period.  And yes, we're talking about the New Jersey Devils.  All four lines were generating offense.  The Devils' top players were getting chances, defensemen were pinching in and they controlled play for pretty much the entire period.  It was pretty much the perfect start to the playoffs.

    Naturally, following up a period like that would be rather difficult.  The Florida Panthers came ready to play in the second period, and eventually battled back with two goals of their own.  The Devils weren't nearly as sharp in the second, as they tried to be too fancy very often.  They played a decent defensive third period, but were lucky to survive Game 1.  Still, they had a phenomenal first period to look back on and Martin Brodeur won his 100th career playoff game.

    Last night didn't feature such a start for the Devils.  Andy Greene took a penalty 11 seconds into the game.  12 seconds after the penalty was called, the Panthers had a goal.  There wasn't much from either team after that in the first period.  The Devils played a sloppy second period, and Florida struck twice more.  The end of the second featured some chances by the Devils, but they didn't play much of their puck possession game until the early third period.  They did manage two goals in the third, and had several chances to tie the game, but they just weren't good enough and their forecheck didn't translate to enough sustained pressure.

    In case you care to further reflect on the opening games of the playoffs, my recaps for the Devils Generals blog can be found here: (Game 1 Recap)  (Game 2 Recap)

    Coming back to New Jersey tied 1-1 isn't bad at all.  In fact, I predicted that the teams would split in Florida and the Devils would then take over the series.  But Game 2 was a missed opportunity, I feel.  The Devils' effort in the first two periods was, let's be honest: unacceptable.  Through the first five periods of the series, they only really played one good period, and only scored goals in one period.  The third period of Game 2 was better, but it was too little, too late.  It isn't the end of the world, though.  Here's a few thoughts from the series so far:

    • Martin Brodeur has been okay.  At times, he's looked great, and other times he didn't look as good.  The goals he allowed to Marcel Goc and Kris Versteeg in Game 1 weren't great, and he kicked out huge rebounds twice to Stephen Weiss in Game 2.  On the other hand, he's still played pretty well overall.
    • Anton Volchenkov hasn't been Brodeur's best friend so far this series.  Volchenkov has been on the ice for as many goals as Marty this series (5 goals, which is all but the empty netter in Game 2).  Volchenkov's plus/minus rating (-1) doesn't look bad, because three of Florida's goals have been power play goals so far, but Anton's play so far has been very underwhelming (could he be hiding an injury?).  He blew coverage on both Panthers goals in Game 1 and wasn't much better in Game 2.  If he struggles in Game 3, I'd rather have Adam Larsson playing, where at least Larsson can move the puck.
    • Aside from Volchenkov, the Devils have done a pretty good job defensively in the series so far.  They still allowed the Panthers too much time and space in Game 2, but they've been pretty good 5-on-5.  The Panthers have just two 5-on-5 goals in the series so far.  Peter Harrold has jumped into plays on occasion, and he's been successful in doing so.  Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene have both found ways to get their shots through to Theodore as well.
    • As mentioned, the Devils have allowed 3 power plays goals and killed 4 Panthers power plays.  The penalty kill, which was historically effective in the regular season, needs to be better in the playoffs.  The Devils have let the Panthers set up their power play too often.  It's okay not to score shorthanded all the time (really, it is...), but the Devils are getting away from what made them successful in the regular season: aggressively chasing the puck-carrier.
    • The three Z's are playing very well.  Zach, Zajac and Zubrus are 1-2-3 (in order) on the team in shots on goal through two games.  Parise has had chances, including the Devils' best chance in the first 40 minutes in Game 2, but he hasn't found the back of the net yet (or a point for that matter).  He needs his luck to turn around, and quickly.  Zajac and Zubrus each have a goal (Zubrus also has an assist).  In contrast, Ilya Kovalchuk led the Devils in shots during the regular season, but he's only managed four in two games this postseason.
    • Zajac, in particular, has been tremendous so far.  While Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias struggle in the faceoff circle, Zajac has won 21 of 32 draws that he's taken.  DeBoer did move him to the third line briefly in Game 2, but he's played very well in the playoffs and the Devils will need more of the same from him.
    • The fourth line has been very solid so far.  Stephen Gionta essentially replaced the injured Jacob Josefson in the lineup, and the three of them (Gionta centering Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier) have done a nice job so far.  Carter has a goal, and each of them have had their chances in both games.  Scoring depth is one of the reasons that this Devils team is better than the teams that have lost in the first round of the playoffs in recent years.
    • Despite the depth, and my previous praises of Parise's game, it's time to get more production out of the Devils' top players. Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias have a goal each, but neither was particularly good in Game 2.  Parise has a lot of shots, but no results.  The bottom line is that those guys need to produce offensively.  Jose Theodore isn't Dominek Hasek, so there's really no excuses.  The Devils would also benefit from some David Clarkson goal-scoring moving ahead.
    • Another weakness of the series for the Devils so far is the power play.  Not only has their penalty kill failed them 3 out of 7 times, but their power play is empty in 7 of 8 chances.  Even their goal on the power play came at the end of a double-minor in Game 1, and came courtesy of a bad Florida line change and a good pass from Martin Brodeur.  Unlike the Panthers, the Devils have struggled to set up their power play.  In the few times they have set up, they've been getting lots of shots and great chances, but the power play has hurt momentum, not built it so far in the series.
    • Finally, I think one of the problems with the Devils in both games (with the exception of the first and last periods of the series thus far) has been the ineffectiveness of their forecheck.  They haven't been able to sustain pressure and generate offense in consecutive shifts, and the Panthers have been able to get the puck out of their zone effectively.  The Devils' aggressive forecheck is the backbone of their offense.  If they aren't scoring on their power play, they need to score 5-on-5, and that all starts with their forecheck.

    That's all I've got for the first two games.  I still believe the Devils will come out strong in Game 3 and win both home games.  They have a few things to work on, but they've still won 7 of their last 8 games overall, so there's no need to panic.

    APRIL 5th, 2012: How far should the Devils go this postseason?

    We're down to a pair of regular season games to go for most NHL teams, the Devils included, and before the playoffs start, I wanted to speculate on how far the 2011-12 Devils should go this postseason.  I'll say right now that they cannot afford to be one and done for many reasons this playoff season.  It would hurt the franchise badly.  They still haven't won a round of playoffs since the Prudential Center opened, and if they want to re-sign Zach Parise, which they should want to and do want to, they need to prove to him that this team is set up to win over the coming years, which they are on paper, but haven't proved yet.

    I won't sit here and tell you what I think of the current players because you probably know by know (after this paragraph, anyway).  Many people look at the talent on the Devils' roster right now and easily say that this is the deepest and most complete roster the Devils have had since the lockout, and it's really hard to argue with that.  Like many teams, they've battled a tremendous number of injuries, so we haven't had much time to see how good the Devils can be when they're healthy, but they're in decent shape heading into the playoffs.  They have a very strong top six group of forwards, their third line might be their best in years and as long as Janssen/Boulton don't play in the playoffs, the fourth line isn't awful, either.  Defensively, they have their best balance of puck-moving defensemen and shutdown defensemen in many years.  Zidlicky, Greene and Larsson are all capable puck-moving D-men, and Fayne, Salvador and Volchenkov are all solid shutdown defensemen (and yes, Larsson should be playing in Detroit, as well as in the playoffs).  Goaltending, which was a problem early in the season, looks to be pretty good right now, as Martin Brodeur's save percentage is over .920 since the All-Star break.  He's as rested as he's been in years.  This could be his last realistic chance to carry a team to a playoff run.
    The Devils also benefit from one of the league's best set of special teams in the NHL.  Their penalty kill is historically good.  If the season ended right now, the Devils would have set an NHL with the best penalty kill percentage since the latest expansion (89.8%) and they'd also set a team record, having allowed just 26 power play goals to their opposition all season, which is amazingly good.  That doesn't even mention the 15 shorthanded goals that they've scored, which leads the NHL as well.

    But of course, you know how good the Devils' penalty kill has been all season.  What you may not know is that since the All-Star break, the Devils have one of the league's best power play units.  I don't know exact numbers, but the Devils' PP has moved from 29th in the league (which is where it was around the break) to 16th right now.  For the season, they've operated at a 16.8% rate, which isn't awful, but now with Zidlicky and Zajac in the lineup, they've been clicking much better, and they seem to have solved, if not improved dramatically, their shorthanded goals against issue from early in the season.  They'll need to rely on that power play in the playoffs.

    So, with that said, what should we expect from the Devils in the playoffs?  Well, first of all, as of right now, we don't know who they'll be playing in the first round.  It is still likely that the Devils will face the Florida Panthers, but it is also possible that the Devils could move up to fifth and face the Penguins or the Capitals could surge and finish third.  I like the Devils this season, but let's be honest: expecting them to beat Pittsburgh 4 out of 7 times would be very challenging.  It can be done, as the Penguins have slipped a bit lately, but they're still the best team in the East.  The Devils should beat Florida and Washington.  That's not saying they will, but they should.  The Devils are a deeper offensive team than both the Panthers and Caps, and the two Southeast teams have each been so inconsistent that if the Devils did lose to either, it would be a collapse.

    MARCH 26th, 2012: Assessing Peter DeBoer's first season as Devils' head coach

    Entering the 2011-12 NHL season, the Devils faced a very familiar problem: they were without a coach...again.  Lou Lamoriello surprised many hockey 'experts' by not choosing Ken Hitchcock, Mike Keenan, Bob Hartley, Craig MacTavish, Guy Carbonneau or another veteran coach by hiring young Peter DeBoer, the recently fired coach from the Florida Panthers organization.  I personally didn't know what to think about DeBoer at first, because unlike Kirk Muller or even John MacLean, I knew next to nothing about him.  Now, 76 regular season games later, I feel that I've figured him out a little bit, so I decided to put together an assessment of his first season in New Jersey.

    Let's start with what I like.  There is a lot I do like about DeBoer.  During his Florida days, he didn't have much talent to work with, and he did a pretty good job with the Panthers, and almost snuck them into the playoffs at one point.  It would be interesting to see how DeBoer would do with them this season, now that the Panthers have a more talented roster.  Pete is a player's coach.  You'll rarely, if ever, hear a player publically express their displeasure with him.  At one point, I remember Zach Parise saying he'd step in front of a bus for DeBoer (the question is, would he stop a grenade for him??).  Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson (surprise, surprise...) have also both praised DeBoer, so obviously, Pete must be a nice guy to deal with from a player's standpoint.

    One of the reasons I believe that players like him, and one of the reason us, as fans, should like him, is his system.  I feel like DeBoer's system is a moderation of Mike Babcock's puck possession system in Detroit.  The Devils like to control the puck.  When they're controlling play and can generate offensive pressure in their opponent's zone, DeBoer is a happy coach.  He likes to get his defensemen involved with the play, both jumping in on a rush to create scoring chances as well as have his defensemen pinch in while in the offensive zone.  In addition, the Devils run one of the NHL's most aggressive forechecks.  They still collapse in the neutral zone, so the trap isn't completely gone (every team traps to an extent, don't be fooled by the media), but anyone who says the Devils are "boring" is simply ignorant, and anyone who says the Devils are boring, yet enjoys Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, etc. are just being hypocrites.  The Devils play an exciting game now under DeBoer.

    Another one of the things we should like about DeBoer is the addition of Dave Barr to the coaching staff.  We never see Barr, as he doesn't stand on the bench next to DeBoer, Robinson or Oates, but he's the mastermind behind the Devils' penalty killing unit this season.  Last season, the Devils ranked 11th in the NHL, at a respectable 83.4%, and they scored three shorthanded goals.  The prior season, the Devils ranked 13th, at 82.8% and 7 shorthanders.  In 2008-09, the Devils were a mediocre 20th with a 79.9% and 12 shorthanded goals.  This season, the Devils own the NHL's best penalty killing unit, 89.5%, which is significantly better than second place Montreal (88.6%), and the Devils have 14 shorthanded goals, which is also best in the league.  The credit here goes to Dave Barr, whose philosophy is to be aggressive in the neutral zone and the defensive zone to chase the puck carrier, and not allow the opposition to get set up.  It's been extremely effective, and it has off-set a useless power play for much of the season.

    I guess the other thing I like about DeBoer is how he's been able to get a lot out of his top players this season.  The Devils have four 25+ goal scorers, six players over 40 points (Petr Sykora has 38), and he's also done a nice job of balancing starts between Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg for most of the season.  He's been able to do something that neither Jacques Lemaire or John MacLean was able to do: make Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise successful on the same line.  Parise hasn't had his best season offensively, but his role with Henrique and Kovalchuk for most of the season made it one of the league's best lines for much of the season.  Still, I'm glad that they're separated now and I hope it stays that way in the playoffs.

    Now, here's what I don't like.  First of all, the Devils are not a particularly good home team.  Entering Tuesday's game against the Blackhawks, they're only 20-13-4 at Prudential Center.  That, to me, is what has prevented the Devils from being among the league's elite teams this season.  In addition, the Devils got swept by the Boston Bruins this season, and can blame several other losses on coaching.  Peter DeBoer gets out-coached on a consistent basis.  If there's a certain matchup (remember, the home team gets the final line change) that doesn't seem to be working, DeBoer doesn't have the ability to change the matchups, or at least he doesn't want to.  When he does, he puts the fourth line out and hopes they don't suck (last night in Pittsburgh, the fourth line, without Janssen and Boulton, looked great.  Imagine that).  For example, in the Bruins game, Zdeno Chara had a field day with Zach Parise.  DeBoer should have either tried to prevent that matchup or switched the lines to force Bruins coach Claude Julien to pick which player Chara was going to be matched up against.  I'm not sure if DeBoer is simply getting out-coached or if he just didn't mind the matchups.

    Another thing I haven't liked all season has been the fourth line.  I guess the blame here ultimately goes to Lou Lamoriello, but there have been several times throughout the season where DeBoer inexplicably put the fourth line (often including Janssen and Boulton) out, and it cost the Devils a goal, and many times, cost them the game.  When Janssen and Boulton are both out of the lineup, the Devils are a better team.  It's that simple.  Like I said earlier in the year, teams don't go after the Red Wings or Blackhawks more because they don't have designated fighters, and the Devils have proved that if someone messes with one of the Devils' top players, someone (Carter, Clarkson, even Kovalchuk) will make the opposition regret their decision.  That means Janssen and Boulton have no value to the Devils.

    Of course, we all know about DeBoer's history with David Clarkson.  If you don't know already, Pete coached Clarkson in the Ontario Hockey League (Kitchener), and they won the Memorial Cup in 2003 together.  It's no coincidence that Clarkson, with 28 goals and 42 points, is having a career year.  With that said, DeBoer has forced Clarkson into some bizarre situations.  The primary example is that Clarkson has become the team's go-to faceoff man on the power play, and recently, he's been taking more draws, 5-on-5.  Perhaps the blame here goes to Adam Oates, but nonetheless, Clarkson should not be taking faceoffs.  Ever.  His percentage is 40.8, which is pathetic.  As a team, the Devils have ranked in the bottom five of the league in faceoff percentage all season, and that has single-handedly cost them numerous games this season.  Only Travis Zajac (58.9%) and Jacob Josefson (51.4%) have won more than half of their faceoffs this season (of Devils who are on the active roster and took more than 100 draws this season).  Everyone else (Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, Dainius Zubrus, Ryan Carter and Clarkson) are under 50%.

    Finally, although I like the Devils' puck possession style, I think DeBoer cares too much about "time in the offensive zone" (known to NHL 12ers as "time on attack"), rather than scoring chances and shots on goal.  The Devils, like in faceoffs, have ranked in the bottom five of the league in shots per game for almost the entire season.  Sometimes, like last night in Pittsburgh, they should have simplified their game and taken more shots, create traffic in front of the net and tried for secondary chances.  I don't know this for a fact, but it just seems to me that the Devils don't score on rebounds or deflections as much as they used to under Jacques Lemaire and Brent Sutter.  Guess what?  A goal is a goal, and while it's nice to score on pretty tic-tac-toe plays, "ugly" goals count just as much, and fans still get up to cheer when the team scores that way.  Sometimes, simple is good: less is more.  I think DeBoer over-coaches at times in that regard.

    So there you have it.  You may agree or disagree with me, and that's fine.  Feel free to comment on Facebook or Twitter about my take on DeBoer.  As with any Devils coach, we can't come to a conclusion on DeBoer until we see how the Devils perform in the playoffs.  With the talent they have and the system they are trying in theory, they should be very successful.  Only time will tell, I guess.

    MARCH 15th, 2012: Henrique vs. Landeskog: who has the edge?

    With the Colorado Avalanche visiting the New Jersey Devils tonight, I decided it would be a good time to write about who will win the Calder Trophy this year.  Two or three weeks ago, this wasn't close.  Adam Henrique seemed to have run away with the Calder, but as the Devils have blown leads in the third period this season, Henrique has blown his lead for the Calder.  Landeskog had a goal and set up the Avs' game-tying goal in the dying seconds of the third period with a dynamic end-to-end rush, and that assist tied him with Henrique with 46 points.  So, as I did for the Hart Trophy the other day, here's my attempt at a neutral look at both players' chances to win the Calder.

    The argument for Gabriel Landeskog:

    First of all, Landeskog is almost two years younger than Adam Henrique.  He's improved his game as the season has progressed and he's become one of the Avs' go-to players.  He scored the overtime winner against the Ducks earlier in the week, then had the end-to-end rush that set up the Avs' game-tying goal in Buffalo.  He's also extremely smart and one of the best two-way hockey players in the game.  In fact, he should be nominated for more than one major award this season: the Calder and the Selke Trophy, as the league's best defensive forward (+/- isn't the greatest stat in the world, but Landeskog is a +19).  Landeskog's goal on Wednesday was his 20th of the season, which leads all rookies.  He's also 13th in the league with 240 shots on goal.

    The argument for Landeskog is that he's burst onto the scene at the age of 19, and he's on the second line in Colorado.  He's also the backbone of their push to the playoffs.  Landeskog never played in the AHL.  He jumped right into the NHL, and after a relatively slow start to the season, he's developed quickly.  He's often compared to Peter Forsberg (minus the annual retirement party).  He scores, he hits, he plays a two-way game and yeah, he's only 19.

    The argument for Adam Henrique:

    Adam Henrique started the season on the fourth line, and was quickly demoted to AHL Albany.  Injuries to many Devils centers forced Henrique back into the lineup, and that's when he erupted into the league.  His "coming out party" came against the Winnipeg Jets when he scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.  After Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went down with an injury, Henrique took over the rookie lead in scoring, and it looked as if he would run away with the Calder Trophy.  Then he got injured.

    Adam has slowed down a bit, production-wise since his injury, but he's a dynamic two-way center who logs big minutes, and important minutes.  He leads the entire NHL in shorthanded goals (4) and shorthanded points (7).  He logs far more shorthanded ice time per game than Landeskog.  At even strength, he's matched up against the opposition's top defensive pairings, as he's become the Devils' top line center.  Henrique is tied with Landeskog, as each have 46 points, but Henrique has played 10 fewer games.  Henrique has also taken the most faceoffs of any rookie this season.  Perhaps Henrique's most impressive stat yet is that he has just 7 penalty minutes all season: one minor and one fighting major, which came against Jarome Iginla in what turned out to be a Gordie Howe hat trick for both players.  So as Landeskog should be nominated for the Selke, Henrique should be nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy.


    So, there's no doubting that both players are crucial to their respective teams.  Of course, the Calder is not about value for the team, so their positions in the standings are irrelevant for this discussion.  Landeskog has more goals, is younger and had no minor league experience, however Henrique has played fewer games, faces tougher opposition and is a dominant shorthanded player.  Both players are tremendous, hard-working, and at times dominant and dynamic two-way forwards, so neither player would be a bad pick for the Calder Trophy.  Personally, I really think it has to go to Henrique as of right now.  He might be older than Landeskog, and although both are smart players, Henrique has the perfect balance of puck-handling skill and hockey "awareness."  He may not score on every chance he gets, but he's done wonders for his world-class linemates, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk this season.  The fact that he plays with such linemates shouldn't hurt his chances to win the Calder as some suggest, but it should help him, as he's earned the right to be the Devils' top center this season.

    MARCH 12th, 2012: Who are the candidates for the Hart Trophy?

    I've spent much of the season campaigning for Adam Henrique to be not only a nominee for the Calder Trophy, but for him to become the third New Jersey Devil to win the award as the league's top rookie, and we, as Devils fans, have a very legitimate argument, but could another Devil be nominated for a major NHL award this season?  Could Ilya Kovalchuk be a Hart Trophy nominee?  With three more points on Sunday night, he tied Phil Kessel for fifth in the league in scoring, with 71 points, and at the rate he's been scoring at post-All-Star break, he could pull off a 90-point season.  But is that enough to warrant him Hart nomination?  Well, make that decision for yourself.

    Evgeni Malkin - Penguins - If there's one player who could ease the loss of Sidney Crosby for the Penguins, it's Evgeni Malkin.  He battled injuries of his own last season and early this season, but now, he's 100% healthy and just might be the best player in the world.  Malkin has figured in 84 of the Penguins' 219 goals this season.  His 84 points as of Monday morning leads the NHL in point scoring.  Malkin is also 8-for-11 in shootouts for the Penguins this season, and 8 of his 38 goals are game-winners.  You'd have to figure, without those shootout wins, the Penguins wouldn't be knocking on the door of the Rangers for top spot in the Eastern Conference.

    As for the intangible, value to his team, Malkin is as valuable as any player to their team.  The Penguins are a very good defensive team and Marc-Andre Fleury is often overlooked, but he's one of the best goaltenders in hockey, yet if the Penguins didn't have Malkin firing on all cylinders this season, they obviously would be lower in the standings.  They're still a playoff team without Malkin, but they'd be on the bubble.

    Henrik Lundqvist - Rangers - It could be argued that Henrik Lundqvist is the best player in the NHL right now.  If the season ended today, he'd win the Vezina Trophy hands-down, finish second for the Jennings Trophy and would likely be a Hart Trophy finalist.  Although Lundqvist is not as durable as Martin Brodeur in his prime, few players have been as valuable to their teams as Lundqvist has been to the Rangers.  The Rangers are mid-pack in terms of goal scoring, and while they do have excellent young defensemen, Lundqvist bails them out time and time again. 

    His stats are absurd: 1.88 goals against average, .935 save percentage, 8 shutouts and 32 wins.  Again, I believe the Hart is based off of how valuable the player is to the team, although it isn't always voted on that way, but if you take Lundqvist off the Rangers, they're a playoff team, but like the Malkin-less Penguins, they'd be a bubble team at best.  Also, Lundqvist has allowed 16 goals over his last five games, and it's no coincidence that the Rangers suffered their first three-game regulation losing streak of the season in that period.

    Steven Stamkos - Lightning - Stamkos' name has to be mentioned until the Lightning are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.  He's ten goals up on Malkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals) and just two points behind Malkin for the Art Ross Trophy (most points).  If the Lightning make the playoffs, which is unlikely, Stamkos would absolutely have to be a Hart Trophy nominee.  If they don't, one could argue that Stamkos was the least valuable player, because he would have cost his team a shot at drafting Forsberg, Grigorenko or Yakupov.

    Stamkos leads the NHL in two very important categories: game-winning goals (10) and points against the player's own division (29).  He's become a more complete goal scorer and hockey player this season, as his power play point totals are down, and he's scoring in many different ways.  He's the face of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and if he doesn't win the Hart this season, he'll have plenty of chances to win it in the future.

    Ilya Kovalchuk - Devils - I never even thought of Kovalchuk as a Hart nominee until various members of the media brought it up.  However, the more I think about it, the more I believe Kovy should be nominated for the Hart Trophy.  He moved into fifth in scoring league-wide, and like Malkin, he missed games early in the season due to injury.  Like Stamkos, Kovy has become a more complete hockey player this season, as he's a regular on the NHL's top penalty killing unit.  He only has four game-winning goals this season, but he's 9-for-11 in the shootout this season, including six game-deciding goals in the shootout, and he leads the league in both shootout categories.  He's also second to Stamkos with 26 points against his division, and that's the Atlantic Division we're talking about.

    So what is Kovalchuk's value to his team?  Kovy got off to a slow start this season, and so did his team.  In their recent five losses in six-game stretch, Kovalchuk didn't score a goal.  Since he picked up five goals and four assists this past week, the Devils went 4-0-0, against the Rangers, Islanders (twice) and Flyers.  Like the Penguins, the Devils have become a strong defensive team this season, but it's hard to imagine them being a playoff team without the services of Kovalchuk this season.  It's that simple.

    Claude Giroux - Flyers - Yes, there's yet another player from the Atlantic Division that can't be forgotten in the Hart discussion, and that's Flyers forward Claude Giroux.  This season has been Giroux's establishment into the elite players' club, and although his team managed to get by when he missed games due to a concussion, he's as valuable as anyone to their hockey team.  Giroux leads the NHL with 55 assists, and has been one of the main reasons why Scott Hartnell is having a career year and why Jaromir Jagr has had a successful NHL comeback.  He makes players around him better for sure.  His 80 points are third in the league to Malkin and Stamkos.

    So where are the Flyers without Giroux this season?  As I said, they played well in his absence earlier in the season, but if they didn't have him all year, it's hard to imagine that they'd be fifth in the conference.  Again, like a Malkin-less Penguins team, a Lundqvist-less Rangers team or a Kovalchuk-less Devils team, the Flyers would be a bubble team without Claude Giroux.  He's an elite player and he's been the backbone of the NHL's best offense after Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were shipped out last off-season (I guess the counter-argument is that the Flyers are the league's highest scoring team anyway).

    Erik Karlsson - Senators - No defenseman has run away with the Norris Trophy this season, but there is one defenseman who, in my opinion, is just a little better than anyone else right now, and that's Erik Karlsson.  This 21-year old Swedish defenseman (not one of Don Cherry's favorites, I guess) is seventh in the NHL in points, with 69.  If you took all of his goals away, his 51 assists are still seven more points than the league's second highest point total from a defenseman: Panthers' Brian Campbell has 44 points.  Karlsson isn't all offense, though.  After a minus-30 +/- rating one season ago, Karlsson sports a plus-15 rating this season (and Ottawa is just 23rd in the league defensively overall).  Just as it has been for Giroux, this has been a massive breakout season for Karlsson.

    How does that translate to value to his team?  Let's put it this way: the Ottawa Senators without Karlsson this season aren't challenging the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the division, and despite Jason Spezza's phenomenal season, I don't think the Sens are even close to the playoffs without Karlsson.  Think of it this way: the Lightning have Stamkos carrying them offensively as Spezza has relatively with Ottawa.  Imagine Karlsson on the Lightning this season.  I understand Zdeno Chara is as valuable as any defenseman, and he's by far the league's best shutdown defenseman, but this season, Karlsson is the most valuable defenseman.  He may not get Hart nomination, but he should be considered.


    So there are my six players I think deserve Hart consideration.  Now, I just have to pick three of them.  If we're going purely off of value to their team, I'd take Malkin, Lundqvist and Kovalchuk, and even though I hate it when pitchers get MVP discussion in baseball and goaltenders get Hart discussion in hockey, I think Lundqvist has to be the front-runner for the Hart Trophy right now, because like the 2011 Detroit Tigers without Justin Verlander, the 2011-12 Rangers without Lundqvist lose the most net value than any team with any other player.

    MARCH 7th, 2012
    For my complete recap of last night's Devils 4-1 win over the Rangers, see the Devils Army Blog.  The Devils played a very strong game last night, and if they play like they did last night (preferably without the second period hiccup), like Ilya Kovalchuk recently said, they can beat anyone, maybe even Boston.  There were a couple of things I want to highlight, and that's why I'm writing this:

    • After scoring 1, 1 and 0 goals against Henrik Lundqvist this season, the Devils finally got to him for multiple goals.  Of course, he was still brilliant, as the game would have been far more lopsided if the Rangers played a lesser goaltender, but the Devils managed to break through against him, and I think that can go a long way.  It's perhaps a bigger win than the 1-0 win at MSG last month.
    • The Devils battled last night.  They knew it would be an easy game, and they matched the Rangers, shift-for-shift last night.  The Devils lost two games to the Rangers this season because they got frustrated, and let one game slip away (the first meeting) and simply played frustrated (the last meeting).  Despite the Rangers tying the game in the second period and controlling play for several shifts, Martin Brodeur settled the Devils down and they rebounded with an extraordinary third period.
    • It should be noted that Mark Fayne had a fantastic game last night.  He didn't register a shot on goal, but he did a strong job defensively.  He and Andy Greene found themselves matched up against Marian Gaborik's line for much of the night, and both did a remarkable job in their own end.
    • Ilya Kovalchuk may have had his best game of the season last night.  8 shots on goal ties his season-high (he did it twice before, on January 7th against Pittsburgh and January 10th in Calgary), and 5 of the 8 shots came in the first period.  He was dominant and obviously fired up to play the Rangers, as he always is.  I'm left to wonder if what we saw last night is a preview of "playoff Kovy."
    • The Devils' power play went 0-for-4 last night, but it looked good at times, particularly the one at the end of the first period.  They looked to find a balance between passing and shooting, and they had the Rangers' skaters confused.  Lundqvist stopped the most dangerous chances, a pair of shots by Kovalchuk, but they looked good.  Marek Zidlicky is starting to look very comfortable as a Devil.
    • The Devils were even good in the face-off circle last night!  They did lose 14 of 21 draws in the first period, but won 23 of 38 draws in the second and third period combined.  They won 30 of 59 overall in the game.  That was a huge factor in the Devils' dominant third period.
    • How about Martin Brodeur?  He was mediocre in the first two games against the Rangers this season, and the Devils and Rangers split those games, but they've won two of three since, three of their last four against the Rangers overall, and Brodeur has been phenomenal in all three games.  In the last four games against the Rangers, his goals against average is 1.19 and save percentage is .948.  In the last three, his goals against average is 0.70 and save percentage is .971.  Not bad for someone who turns 40 years old in two months.
    • It's so important for the Devils to build on this game.  They did not do that after dominating Washington, 5-0 last Friday.  They can't take the Islanders lightly, because the Isles play hard every single game.  The Devils have to earn wins on Thursday and Saturday.  They can't get beat by an inferior team again.

    Finally, it looks like Alexei Ponikarovsky should be good to go for Thursday.  He practiced today, so that's a good sign.  Andy Greene and Zach Parise obviously played last night, so now the focus, once again, shifts to Travis Zajac.  The Penguins look like they're getting Sidney Crosby back, so hopefully the Devils will get Zajac back and get him into some regular season games before the playoffs.

    In the meantime, let's see if the Devils can beat the power-house Islanders this weekend.

    MARCH 5th, 2012: Have the Devils "over-corrected" their balance between offense and defense?
    Ever since Jacques Lemaire came to New Jersey (the first time), the media and fans of opposing teams would always whine and complain about the Devils' neutral zone trapping defensive system, mainly the 1-2-2 and the passive forechecking of the Devils.  Now, we all know that any team that wants to hold leads and win in the NHL, especially in the playoffs, uses some form of the trap (1-2-2, 1-3-1, 1-4, etc.), but that's beside the point.  I've made some observations over the past few games, especially because of the dramatic failures of the Devils' play that resulted in them being shut out by the Rangers and Islanders over the past week.  Here's what I've noticed.

    Peter DeBoer was brought in to finish (and do what John MacLean couldn't do) the transition from the Devils' dynasty days of having the league's best defense to being an up-tempo, high-skilled team, and despite the fact that I don't particularly like a lot of things that DeBoer has tried to do, he's done a pretty good job with the Devils.  In fact, some argue that DeBoer should be considered for the Jack Adams Trophy as the league's best coach.  I wouldn't go that far, but the last couple of games have me questioning DeBoer's system just a bit.

    I think the Devils are trying to impliment a similar system to that of the Detroit Red Wings.  The Devils, like the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks (just to highlight a couple) and some other teams, want to be puck possession teams.  They want to control the flow of the game.  They don't want to wait for turnovers or play up to their opponents.  These are teams that want to dictate the pace of hockey games.  The problem, as the 1995 Red Wings proved in their four straight losses to the Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals, is that the aggressive forechecking and offensive systems can have flaws.

    Recently, the Devils were shut out by the Rangers and Islanders.  Both of those teams played extremely tight defensive games, and the Devils couldn't generate anything offensively.  On the flip side, the Washington Capitals, who were an absolute mess on Friday night, as they've been much of the season, allowed the Devils to play their game, and the Devils cruised, 5-0.  But let's be honest: the Devils will be facing better teams than the Caps in the playoffs, especially if they want to make a deep run this spring, and if they want to win, they'll have to solve better defensive teams than the Caps.

    My personal opinion is that right now, the Devils have tried to become too offensive.  They're still a decent defensive team, and for the most part, they're smart with their hockey sticks and positioning in the defensive zone, but when it's time to move up the ice, that's when things go wrong.  They have plenty of skill up-front, but there's too much one-on-one and guys trying to beat the opposition.  The Rangers and Islanders had answers for the Devils' offense, and they made the Devils look foolish offensively.  In order to beat the trap, you need to be more patient and simple.  The Devils should know.  They perfected it defensively in the past.

    I would like to see a smarter offensive plan.  If the "fancy" stuff isn't working, take long shots on net, dump the puck in (cross-ice dump-ins and other trap-breaking tactics preferred) and force face-offs.  Of course, the Devils are terrible at winning draws this season, despite Adam Oates, a face-off wizard in his day, behind the bench.  If the Devils want to play like the Red Wings, they need to create more havoc in front of the net, they need to get to more rebounds and deflect more point shots.  They don't shoot enough as a team, and to me, that's due to a team trying to do too much fancy work.  They need to find ways to get the puck to the net (and since teams like the Rangers and Islanders block a lot of shots, that isn't easy), and then get secondary scoring chances, because I feel like the Devils aren't doing that enough.  They have the personnel to do so, as Parise, Zubrus, Clarkson, Ponikarovsky and others are more than capable in front of the net and around the net, but think about it: how many deflection goals have the Devils scored all season compared to, say, the Brent Sutter era?

    Peter DeBoer's system sounds great, and it's nice to have a coach that wants to get the most out of his high-skilled players, but there's more to scoring goals in the NHL than end-to-end rushes, wrist shots from the circles and one-timers from long range.  The Devils know that, and they need to play smarter, or it'll be another first round exit for the Devils, and that would be very difficult to swallow from the hockey perspective and financially.

    FEBRUARY 28th, 2012: What went wrong at Madison Square Garden last night?

    Luckily, I didn't have to write the Generals' recap after last night's frustrating loss to the Rangers, because I was too frustrated myself to write one.  Still, I'm not panicking at this point, because last night was frustrating, and that's all.  It is ironic, though, that Ranger fans mocked the Devils for years because of the neutral zone trap, yet the Rangers have perfected the trap, and that's the top reason they won last night.  It's also ironic that Ranger fans whine about David Clarkson's on-ice theatrics, while Sean Avery is still a beloved figure at MSG and Brandon Prust wasn't even "man" enough to fight last night initially.

    I did want a vent just a bit about the game, though, because it was a poor display by the Devils, and it follows, well, a poor effort against Tampa Bay.  So what is wrong with the Devils right now?

    • I know I've beaten this subject to death recently, but the Devils need to improve in the face-off circle.  Their recent performances are just not good enough, and because they lose so many draws, they're chasing the play right away.
    • The Devils "invented" the trap, now they have to solve it.  The Devils are now the team with the star forwards and the aggressive forecheck.  Last night (and against Tampa Bay's 1-3-1 modification of the trap on Sunday), the Devils didn't get enough pucks deep in the Rangers' end, they weren't smart with the puck (cross-ice dumps, long shots on goal to draw face-offs, etc.) and they did what the 1995 Red Wings tried to do against the Devils: beat the trap 1-on-1.  It doesn't work.  The Devils learned the hard way.
    • Last night had a playoff atmosphere, and it felt like a playoff game.  Regardless of whether we, as Devils fans, want to admit the Rangers are an elite team or not: they are, as the Devils are, regardless of what Ranger fans like to believe.  The Devils will need to learn to play those type of games, because teams will trap more in the playoffs.
    • SHOOOOOOOOOT!!!  We've all sat next to (or are) someone who yells "shoooooot" at players, while most of the time, the players know what they're doing, and we should really shutup.  Last night, the Devils needed to shoot more.  I don't care what kind of defensive scheme the opposition is running, 13 shots on goal is pathetic, and most of them were poor chances anyway.  Patrik Elias, in particular, needs to just get the puck on net.  The Devils haven't been getting to enough second or third chances recently, and that's not going to win you games in the playoffs.
    • I thought the Devils controlled the puck for most of the game last night, but they couldn't do anything with it.  The Henrique line struggled (again), although Henrique and Parise had great chances early on.  The Elias line struggled as well.  They had some chances, but made poor decisions with the puck all night.  The third line controlled the puck, as usual, but again, they didn't shoot nearly enough.
    • On the only goal against a goalie all game: Mark Fayne gave Carl Hagelin too much room, but Martin Brodeur needed to stop that short side shot.  Brodeur looked shaky, at best, in the first period, as he even misplayed the puck, which is rare, unless Johan Hedberg is playing.  That goal hurt, because the Rangers offense looked as awful as the Devils' offense last night, so the one mistake definitely hurt.
    • David Clarkson was stupid last night.  It's that simple.  He needs to play smart in games like that, because honestly, he played like Sean Avery out there.  Yes, I know that Brandon Dubinsky can be a bit annoying at times, and Prust, Bickel and Rupp are idiots, we all know that, but the Devils looked like they were trying to engage the Rangers in their stupid games, and the Rangers didn't want to.  Clarkson can be productive offensively, and in a game like last night, that's how he would have better valued his team.
    • Marek Zidlicky's second game as a Devil wasn't impressive at all.  None of the Devils' defensemen looked particularly strong with the puck last night, but Zidlicky hasn't impressed me at all so far.  Hopefully he just needs a few practices with the team, but I'm not sure what to expect from him.
    • Finally, the Devils need to find a way to win more face-offs and shoot more pucks.  Adam Oates, the brilliant face-off man he once was, needs to somehow teach Henrique, Elias, Zubrus (and Clarkson if DeBoer insists on making him take draws on the power play) to win face-offs.  As far as shots go, the Devils make Henrik Lundqvist's night very easy.  Almost every single NHL goalie could have shut the Devils out last night.  They need to create more traffic and get to rebounds.
    • On the bright side, last night was only the second time the Devils had been shut out this season, and Opening Night was the only other time.  Hopefully, that'll be it as far as getting shut out this season.

    That's all I've got regarding last night.  In my opinion, the Devils' biggest threat right now is still Boston.  Like the New York Giants can't beat the New Orleans Saints, I don't think the Bruins are a good matchup for the Devils.  Zdeno Chara can make Zach Parise look as useless as Cam Janssen offensively when they're matched up.  Tomorrow night, as well as Friday in D.C., will be huge tests for the Devils, who are still a good road team.  They need to beat Boston.

    Speaking of the Bruins game, I'll hope you'll join us for a viewing party at the Orange Lantern in Paramus.  Every viewing party the Generals run is a lot of fun, if you haven't been to one yet.  This one is the one I planned, and it's our first time doing one in Bergen County, so if you can make it, be sure to stop by.  There is a Facebook event page for it, which has further details.

    FEBRUARY 25th, 2012: Thoughts on the Devils trading for Marek Zidlicky and more

    The Devils' acquisition of Kurtis Foster from the Anaheim Ducks earlier this season was supposed to fix the team's previously awful power play.  Statistically, it did.  Foster helped the Devils' power play create better scoring chances and forced the opponents' penalty kill to consider Foster's shot, in addition to Ilya Kovalchuk, despite battling shorthanded goal problems all season.  In Foster's 28 game Devils career, the team operated with a power play that scored at over a 21% rate.  That was a huge improvement from the opening portion of the season.  Now, Foster's Devils career is over, and Marek Zidlicky comes to New Jersey.  To summarize the trade made Friday night, New Jersey sends Foster, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux, Washington's 2nd round draft pick (acquired in the Jason Arnott trade) and a conditional draft pick (if the Devils make the Eastern Conference Finals, the Wild get another draft pick.  For complete details of the trade, see Tom Gulitti's blog post) to Minnesota for 35-year old Czech defenseman Marek Zidlicky.

    Tonight proved that it is difficult for any team to trade for a defenseman.  Any way you look at the trade, the Devils did give up a lot for Zidlicky.  My personal opinion is this: Marek Zidlicky desperately wanted to leave Minnesota.  Wild GM Chuck Fletcher wanted to deal Zidlicky.  Minnesota was the desperate team here.  Lou Lamoriello gave up a lot to get Zidlicky.  I understand that Zidlicky was unhappy with his situation in Minnesota, but his $4 million cap hit (that runs through next season) is a lot for a guy who has dramatically underperformed with Minnesota.  With that said, Zidlicky is a bit of an upgrade over Foster on the power play, and is better defensively than Foster.  As Lou Lamoriello sees it, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux and Foster had diminishing roles on the team, at best.  Zidlicky, although at a very high cost, makes the Devils a better team.  It's just a matter of how much better they will become that will be interesting to see.  He doesn't have much size (he's listed as 5'11"), but he does have a great shot.

    The other thing I take from this trade is that if Lou Lamoriello was willing to deal Palmieri and Veilleux, he might have another trade for a forward in mind before Monday at 3:00 PM eastern time, which is the NHL Trade Deadline.  Dustin Brown and Ales Hemsky have been linked to the Devils, but Hemsky re-signed with the Oilers today, so I doubt that happens.  I personally don't think Brown will end up in New Jersey.  I don't think the Devils would give up what the Kings would want, which would probably include an NHL-ready forward who can score goals.

    Another aspect of the Zidlicky trade is that the Devils are taking on his $4 million cap hit through next season.  As Gulitti wrote on his Twitter, he doesn't think this will impact Zach Parise contract negotiations, but it could potentially affect the team's roster next season, especially because the salary cap is expected to drop this summer, with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement pending.  Martin Brodeur will take a pay cut if he returns and Bryce Salvador's $2.9 million comes off the books (he's unlikely to re-sign, at least in my opinion).

    Now, what impact does this trade have on the team?  At one point, not too many years ago, you couldn't talk about the league's best power play defensemen or offensive defensemen in general without mentioning Marek Zidlicky's name.  At one point, he produced power play goals like Starbucks produced coffee.  He scored 40 or more points in five of his first six NHL seasons, but he's deteriorated over the past two seasons, including this one.  The question I'd like to know is how much of that is him as a player and how much is him being miserable in Minnesota?  I think it's a mix of both, but where's the balance?  I sincerely doubt he'll ever score 40 points in a season again.  He's only scored 7 power play goals in his last 165 games after scoring 35 power play goals in his previous 383 games.  He's also been a -6 or worse in each of his nearly four seasons with the Wild.  Still, he's now with a better hockey team, and hopefully, a team that he'll be happy playing for.  Pete DeBoer's puck possession system should compliment Zidlicky's game, and he'll likely step right into Foster's spot on the power play.  It's a trade that could go either way, I suppose, but Lou was clearly willing to take a chance and set the Devils up for a playoff run.  He doesn't want another first round exit.

    Finally, what are the Devils' remaining needs?  As far as I'm concerned, their defense is set now.  It's probably the best group of defensemen the Devils have had since their last Stanley Cup in 2003, if not, since the lockout at least.  They now have three defensemen who are capable offensively (Zidlicky, Adam Larsson and Andy Greene), two very capable shutdown defensemen (Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador), plus either Mark Fayne or Henrik Tallinder, which will depend on Tallinder's health long-term (Peter Harrold remains an option as well).

    The Devils' biggest need right now, to me, is simple: they need a center who can win face-offs.  As I've written, tweeted, blogged, told you in person if you've met me, etc.: the Devils are 29th out of 30 teams in faceoff percentage (46.5% right now, entering Sunday's game against the Lightning), and don't have an active player over 50% in faceoff percentage.  Patrik Elias has taken the most draws on the team, yet his faceoff percentage has been under 44% all season.  Dainius Zubrus is no better.  Even Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson are under 50%.  Power play faceoff man David Clarkson is well-below 40%.  The Devils need help badly.  One of their main reasons for losing to Vancouver Friday night, as well as previous losses earlier in the season (losses to San Jose and Boston come to mind) is because they couldn't win faceoffs.  They were chasing the play before it started all night.  Canucks center Manny Malhotra dominated the Devils on Friday, including a stretch of winning six straight draws.  The Devils can't count on Travis Zajac, who is strong in the faceoff circle, and they should make a move if they can (Jeff Halpern in Washington could be an option, Sammy Pahlsson in Columbus is another, Scott Gomez is not).

    Other than that, the Devils are probably done making trades.  Some people believe Lou Lamoriello may surprise everyone and make a significant trade, but I'll be honest: I think this team is set once they acquire a centerman.  They're deep, they're skilled, they have enough defense and goaltending, block shots and a good enough team overall to make a playoff run.  You know, Vancouver versus New Jersey last night...perhaps we'll see that again later this spring.  You have to give to get, and the Devils certainly gave to Minnesota, but who knows, it just might be worth it come June.  As Matt Loughlin said last night, hopefully Doc Emrick will once again recite his famous line: "The championship to New Jersey, the Devils win the Stanley Cup."

    FEBRUARY 17th, 2012: Are the Devils the Rangers' biggest threat in the East?

    It was barely a month ago that Pete DeBoer called the Devils an elite team in the Eastern Conference.  At the time, I, like many, laughed at his bold statement, but also realized that they could certainly improve.  Now, in the middle of February, the Devils are clicking on all cylinders.  They're scoring goals, thanks to three members of the 50-point club (Kovalchuk, Elias, Parise), playing better defensively (their goal differential is finally positive and they've allowed more than three goals once since the All-Star break) and getting vintage Martin Brodeur in goal.  While it is said that you can't judge a team based on its highest of highs or lowest of lows, the Devils are on a roll right now (7-1-1 since the All-Star break), and you can count me in as someone who believes in this team now.  I wouldn't say this team is as good of a regular season team as the 2005-06 or 2008-09 teams were, but they're moving their way up, and that's all that matters right now.

    Of course, everyone in the conference is looking up at the New York Rangers.  As much as I absolutely hate admitting this, they're the class of the Eastern Conference right now and every other team measures themselves up to them.  Yes, even the Boston Bruins are looking up at the Rangers.  The Rangers are a combined 8-0-0 against Boston and Philadelphia, and even with Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins aren't as good of a team without Sidney Crosby in the lineup, so it begs the question: are the Devils the Rangers' greatest threats in the Eastern Conference this season?

    I tend to write these posts asking a question, but never answering them, so let me answer the question.  Yes.  The Devils are the best threat to prevent the Rangers from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals this season.  Martin Brodeur will likely return next season, but he knows that this is his best chance to win a Stanley Cup Championship.  He's playing like he's determined to make it happen, and that goes a long way.  I think the turning point of the season, when he started to believe that he can be an elite goaltender again was when he went into Madison Sqaure Garden and shut out the Rangers.  The Rangers had been playing great hockey and the Devils beat them twice within a week.  Once they proved they could beat other elite teams, they got a huge boost of confidence.  And since the All-Star break, four of their victories have come against the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins.

    While Brodeur's play recently is all well and good (8-3-1, 1.80 goals against average and .928 save percentage in his last 12 games, per Dave Lozo), the team has been playing just as well in front of him.  The Devils are becoming a complete, [dare I say] four-line team with capable defensemen.  I understand that there are no Stevens', Rafalski's or Niedermayer's on this team, but they have enough talent to shut down opponents (Salvador, Volchenkov), move the puck (Greene, Larsson) and quarterback a power play (Foster) to get by (Andy Greene has quietly been a tremendous addition to the lineup since his return from injury, in my opinion).  Since defensemen are so hard to come by in the NHL, the Devils are probably going to have to make do with who they have.  They might add Marek Zidlicky before the deadline, but that is all.

    It seems that slowly, but surely, Pete DeBoer is putting together a solid fourth line.  Stephane Veilleux got into a game recently, and Nick Palmieri has returned from Albany.  The problem is, they still haven't played together as the left and right wings for Jacob Josefson.  Considering how downright useless Eric Boulton has been this season and the lack-of-need for a heavyweight (Cam Janssen, I'm looking at you) in "today's NHL," the Devils should just bench both of them and ice four quality lines that know how to skate/stick-handle 101.  If they do that, they'll be as deep of a team that the Devils have iced since before the lockout (perhaps since 2003??).

    The Devils have an elite top scoring line, with Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique and Zach Parise, who are all extremely talented offensive players in their own regard.  Parise and Henrique are extremely hard-working, two-way forwards (not that Kovalchuk isn't), and then Kovalchuk adds the dynamic explosiveness that makes that line truly lethal.  The second line is a great compliment to the top line.  Generally speaking, the Petr Sykora-Patrik Elias-David Clarkson line is the team's best puck possession line, at least if you look at advanced puck possession statistics.  Elias is on pace for about 80 points, so in theory, at least if you look at goals and assists, he should be considered amongst the league's elite centers.  The great part about this team is that they don't stop after two lines.  Alexei Ponikarovsky-Dainius Zubrus-Steve Bernier have played extremely well as a unit in a short time.  Ponikarovsky has been a welcomed addition to the lineup offensively, and as he says, it's the "600+ pound line."  It's very difficult for the opposition to contain the three of them.  They're like a power runningback in football: they wear the defense out.

    There's also that X-factor: Travis Zajac (he'll dramatically help the Devils in the face-off department).  If he returns healthy this season, the Devils have a problem, as a center would lose his job.  In all likelihood, that would be Josefson at this point.  Assuming Ryan Carter and Adam Larsson also return healthy, the Devils are looking at a lineup something like this:

    Parise - Henrique - Kovalchuk
    Elias - Zajac - Sykora
    Ponikarovsky - Zubrus - Clarkson
    Bernier - Carter - Palmieri

    Larsson - Greene
    Salvador - Volchenkov
    Foster - Tallinder

    That's not bad, huh?  That'll give the Rangers a run for their money, even in a seven-game series.

    FEBRUARY 7th, 2012: Are the Devils an 'elite' team in the East?

    Not too long ago, Devils head coach Pete DeBoer proclaimed that this current New Jersey Devils team was an 'elite' team in the Eastern Conference.  Many hockey fans, including myself, laughed at the notion.  Nonetheless, this is DeBoer's fifth season in the NHL as a head coach and I had a hard time believing that he would say that just to say that.  As much as I'm not DeBoer's biggest fan, the man is not legally insane or completely incompetent.  He must truly believe in this Devils team.

    Now, a short while later, the Devils have won all four of their games since the All-Star break and have turned some heads in the process.  At one point last week, they were holding onto a playoff spot and things didn't look good for them, given the difficulty of their immediate schedule out of the break.  Now, the Devils are 30-19-3, which is good enough for 63 points and 6th place in the conference.  I understand that 9 of their 30 wins are via the shootout, but as long as the Devils keep winning, they're wins and points in the standings.

    So, the question is, with recent wins over the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins out of the All-Star break, what should we, as fans, expect from this team down the stretch?  Will the Devils go on a tear in the second half of the season as they did one year ago?  Are they 'elite' enough to compete with the Rangers and Bruins in the East?  Can they overcome one of the NHL's most difficult remaining schedules and physical division rivals and even make the playoffs?  That's what I'd like to find out.

    The simple answer to whether of not the Devils will be 'elite' or not would be to say that the Devils need to get solid goaltending from Martin Brodeur, who DeBoer has shown lots of faith in to carry the team down the stretch and more elite "snipeage" from Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and the team's best players.  That's the simple formula to winning these days, and it is for good reason.  As Kovalchuk and Parise go, the Devils seem to go.

    I'll take two approaches to the question of whether or not the Devils are 'elite:' first, the negative side.

    Why the Devils are not elite:

    First of all, Martin Brodeur has been inconsistent at best this season.  His save percentage is under .900 this season, and the current group of Devils' defensemen are simply not good enough to play in front of a declining goaltender.  Adam Larsson, who is currently injured, has been the team's most reliable two-way defenseman, and he's 19 years old.  Asking him to carry the load is like asking a kindergartner to do a middle schooler's homework: eventually, he'll be able to do the job, but right now, he's just not ready.

    Secondly, the Devils, like many teams in the Atlantic division, have been doomed by injuries this season.  Brodeur, Travis Zajac, Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique, Andy Greene, Jacob Josefson, Henrik Tallinder and Larsson have all experienced noteworthy injuries throughout this season, and they're not even close to returning to full health.  Zajac's season is in jeopardy right now, Henrique just returned from a lingering groin injury, Larsson is battling a back injury and Tallinder is still out at least another month.  Unless the Devils make a significant trade, guys like Mark Fayne and Matt Taormina are going to be forced to log big and important minutes.  Aside from Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador, the Devils can't really rely on anyone to consistently shut down opponents.

    Another problem with the Devils moving ahead is their brutal schedule.  While they've been good lately, they still have to face the Rangers four times (including tonight), the Flyers twice, the Penguins twice, the Islanders (who always play the Devils tough) four times, the Bruins one more time, plus the Canucks, Blues, Blackhawks and Red Wings once each.  Expecting the Devils to be able to survive that schedule, given the injuries, might be too much to ask.

    Finally, the Devils have simply been too inconsistent this season.  They've had stretches like the one they're on right now, where everything seems to look good, but can they expect Kovy, Parise, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus to all remain red hot together?  I'm not sure that's a realistic expectation.  Their special teams have also been inconsistent.  Sure, they've scored plenty of shorthanded goals, but they've also struggled killing the penalties recently.  Their power play has also improved, but they've continued to struggle with not giving up shorthanded goals.  In summary, the Devils just don't play consistent enough and hold leads well enough to threaten the East's top teams.

    Why the Devils are elite:

    Now, for all of you who think I was being pessimistic, keep reading.  Coming into this season, I thought this Devils team had a chance to be one of the stronger offensive Devils rosters we've seen in a long time.  Although I am not a huge DeBoer fan, many people compare his system to that of Brent Sutter.  Zach Parise thrived under Sutter, as he recorded his best NHL season under Sutter in 2008-09, posting 45 goals and 94 points during that campaign.  Besides, the players seem to like DeBoer, and ultimately, it is far more important that the players like their coach than myself, a fan.

    I'd also feel comfortable saying that this Devils team looks like a tighter group than most recent teams of the Devils' past.  There doesn't seem to be any visible tension with their locker room.  Everyone seems to play for each other, and if you don't think that's important, take a look at the New York Giants' Superbowl run they just capped off.  The most obvious example of the Devils playing like a team is when superstar sniper Ilya Kovalchuk dropped the gloves to fight for Zach Parise in Philadelphia.  Kovy could have let a "role player," such as Eric Boulton handle the fighting, but he didn't.  The team has been playing like that all season, and they'll continue to do so as long as they believe in each other.

    Now, they don't have to play like underdogs, because they aren't underdogs at all.  The Devils have three of hockey's best offensive players this season on their roster.  As Todd Cordell pointed out in his blog recently, the Devils have three of the top ten scorers in the NHL over the past month: Ilya Kovalchuk has the most points of any NHL player during the past month, Patrik Elias ranks 5th in that category and Zach Parise is tied for eighth.  Right now, those three are playing as the team's top line, and they've been red hot lately.  Kovalchuk, the league's second star of the week last week, put up 10 points in 4 games (all Devils wins), while Parise scored five times in the four games and Elias had points in all four games as well, including a three assist outing in Philly.

    The thing is, though, the Devils go deeper than their top line.  Assuming rookie center Adam Henrique's groin injury is behind him, his 34 points rank just shy of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the league lead in points for a rookie.  Henrique has played most of the season with Parise and Kovalchuk when he's been healthy.  There's also big Dainius Zubrus, who has been consistent this season and has played in every situation that the Devils have asked of him.  He's also scored 15 goals, despite shooting just 72 times (20.8%).  There's also David Clarkson, who has already set a career-high with his first 20-goal season.  He has just 9 assists this season, but he loves to shoot from everywhere and has thrived under his old buddy from Kitchener, Peter DeBoer.

    After Clarkson, the Devils have wily veteran Petr Sykora.  While he's no Teemu Selanne, he's been a welcome piece to the Devils' success this season, posting 26 points in 52 games, which is a pace for nearly 20 goals and over 40 points.  That's not bad for a tryout who barely made the team in October.  Speaking of tryouts, Steve Bernier didn't make the team out of camp, but the Devils are 4-0-0 when he's played with them this season.  He's also chipped in with assists in back-to-back games.  Bernier has had success in the NHL before, and given the right opportunity, he may do it again this season.  His current linemate is the big winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has been everything the Devils could have hoped for thus far.  He's picked up six points in six games as a Devil, and has brought a physical edge with him.  He's been knocked in the past for being inconsistent with his effort, but perhaps Lou Lamoriello saw something in him that he likes.

    On the blue line, this group doesn't have Stevens, Niedermayer or Rafalski, but it does have a rising young star in Adam Larsson.  Luckily, his back injury doesn't seem to be serious, so he should be back soon.  While 16 points doesn't jump out at anyone, he's been a steady, smooth-passer who has learned from his early mistakes and is becoming the team's best defenseman...by far.  It's pre-mature to mention Larsson's name in the same sentence with the aforementioned Devils of the past, but it won't be long before we really can.

    After Larsson, there's the shutdown duo of Volchenkov and Salvador, who are both bouncing back from injury-plagued seasons from a year ago.  While the two only have 13 points between them, they are physical, solid shutdown defensemen who log huge minutes against the opposition's top players on most nights.  If these two can remain healthy, they'll do the Devils wonders down the stretch.  There's also Andy Greene, who has missed essentially half of the season to date due to injury, but he's back now, and that's good news for the Devils.  Greene is another solid defenseman, but he's better with the two-way game than Volchenkov or Salvador...unless Kovalchuk can keep setting up empty-netters for Volchenkov.  Greene has registered 11 assists in 27 games this season.  Any puck-handling skills he can provide to compliment Larsson will be welcomed.  Also, while his play in his own end has been a struggle at times, Kurtis Foster is a valuable piece for the Devils to have.  Foster's point shot can be deadly and his presence on the power play has revived it from the lowest of lows.

    Goaltending has been a problem at times for the Devils this season, but Brodeur seems to be playing better lately.  He's won all three of his starts since the All-Star break with wins over the Rangers, Canadiens and Penguins.  For what it's worth, he's beaten Pittsburgh three straight times, and he's brought out his best for those games.  He'll need to bring out the Pittsburgh-Brodeur for the Rangers as well.  Johan Hedberg is one of hockey's best backups, and he's been very solid when called upon.  DeBoer trusts Brodeur, and Marty will play most of the games down the stretch.  To be positive, remember how well Brodeur played during the second half of last season.  His save percentages, by month, last season in January, February and March were .919, .950 and .922.  He's got one more playoff run left in him.  He's sitting on 3 Stanley Cups, 99 playoff wins and 23 playoff shutouts (tied with Patrick Roy for the most in NHL history).  He could stand to pad those numbers, right?

    With the current group the Devils have, they are truly a very talented hockey team.  They're attempting to prove that they're not just talented, but a good team as well.  There's also under three weeks until the trade deadline, and Lou Lamoriello will have cap space to work with as he decides what kinds of trades to make.  I'll say this now: if Lou can find a veteran two-way defenseman without giving up a roster player, he should make the deal.

    Does that make the Devils 'elite?'  They have yet to prove that.  The truth is, we won't know who's elite or not until the end of the regular season.  Some teams may collapse while others may surge.  It's early February and nobody has clinched anything yet.  As far as the Devils go, they're deep enough and talented enough to play with the top teams in the conference, and the team genuinely believes that as well.  If they can get as healthy as possible and perhaps even get Travis Zajac back for any part of April and potentially beyond, they just might have a playoff run in them.  It won't be easy, but hey, all they have to do is get into the playoffs.  You never knew what happens after that...until it happens, of course.

    JANUARY 31st, 2012: 2nd half preview
    The first half of the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils season felt like a roller coaster.  It started with uncertainty.  Would the first half Devils from last year show up, would the second half Devils from last year show up or would we find them somewhere in between?  Obviously, they aren't first and they aren't last, so they're somewhere in between.  They carry a 26-19-3 record out of the All-Star break, and sit in a four-way tie for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, with 55 points.  Due to their inflated record, specifically eight shootout wins, they only have 18 regulation and overtime wins, so by process of the tiebreakers, they would technically miss the playoffs if they started today.  After dropping three straight prior to the break, they'll need to find a way to be more consistent if they want to make the playoffs this season.

    If you look at their first half stats, the Devils aren't really a playoff team.  They rank 18th in goals for, 13th in goals against, only 18 regulation/overtime wins and as good as the penalty kill was early in the season, the power play was that much worse.  With that said, the Devils can be a much better hockey team, but they'll need to get much healthier.  As I tweeted earlier today, the Devils rank 29th in the NHL with a team face-off percentage of 46.7%.  Patrik Elias has struggled in the face-off circle all season, and even Adam Henrique is slightly under 50% himself.  A healthy Jacob Josefson should help the Devils in that department, and hopefully, a 100% healthy Travis Zajac will help that down the road.  The Devils need Zajac to be healthy if they want to compete in the Eastern Conference this season.  It's that simple.

    They'll also benefit from the return of Andy Greene tonight against the Rangers.  Greene has missed nearly two months at this point, and while he isn't a game-breaker, his presence will be much-welcomed on the blue line.  Over the last two seasons prior to this one, Greene has averaged nearly 23 minutes of ice-time per game and registered 60 points over that span.  He posted 9 assists in 23 games this season.  Having defensemen like Greene, who can play a smart, stay-at-home game, helps out the flow of a hockey game.  When young or inexperienced defensemen can't make the plays to clear the zone and make breakout passes out of the defensive zone, defensive shifts become longer and the forwards are out of gas before they can generate any scoring chances of their own.

    The other interesting note from Devils camp is that Peter DeBoer says he wants to rely heavily on Martin Brodeur down the stretch.  In my opinion, this is Marty's last chance as an NHLer to carry a team into the playoffs.  It'll be a significant challenge for him, as he's been inconsistent at times this season, and stats would suggest that Johan Hedberg should see more action in the second half.  Still, hopefully Brodeur is up to the challenge and has one more vintage Brodeur stretch in him this spring.

    Finally, here are a few things that I believe will determine the Devils' fate this season:

    • Health - This is pretty obvious.  The healthier your team stays, the better your team performs...at least in theory.  As I said, the Devils really need Zajac for many reasons.  He's been a top face-off man in the league for several years and he's capable of being a very strong two-way center.  His value to the Devils is as significant as anyone.
    • 60 minutes - It seems that every time the Devils face one of the top teams in the league, they'll play well for two periods, but are haunted by one really poor period.  If they want to beat elite teams, they'll need to show up for 60 minutes.  The third period has been the team's main struggle this season.  Whether it's scoring the "nail in the coffin" goal, holding a lead, keeping a game tied or simply not imploding, third periods have been a trouble-spot for this Devils team.
    • Peter DeBoer - One of the reasons I believe the Devils have struggled in the third period this season is the coaching of DeBoer.  Especially at home, you should be able to get the matchups you want on the ice.  DeBoer is either choosing the wrong matchups in key situations or getting outsmarted and outcoached by the opposition.  For example, when you're at home playing against the Boston Bruins, you shouldn't allow Claude Julien to keep Zdeno Chara out for every shift against Parise and Kovalchuk.
    • Ilya Kovalchuk - Last season's awful first half and phenomenal second half are also a tremendous reflection of Kovy's season.  Kovy tallied 23 goals in the season's final 48 games last season after a horrific start.  This season, Kovy has been much more consistent.  He's on pace to exceed last season's total of 31 goals and 60 points dramatically, and the Devils will need more of the same from Kovy's first half down the stretch.
    • A little more Adam - Adam Larsson's rookie season has been bumpy, but he's shown signs of brilliance.  His composure has been extremely impressive and his puck-moving ability has helped the Devils as well.  The Devils will need the smart Adam Larsson, who uses the boards and doesn't throw the puck up center ice in the second half.  As for the "other" Adam, Henrique, they'll need his groin to recover and he'll need to continue to play his Calder-caliber play this season.  The penalty kill needs him and the top line needs him.
    • Veteran help - The first half of the season featured some experienced Devils having strong seasons.  Patrik Elias leads the Devils with 46 points in 47 games.  Petr Sykora has fit in nicely with 12 goals in the first half.  Dainius Zubrus has been a strong fit as a top-6 forward so far.  Anton Volchenkov has elevated his physical game recently, and Bryce Salvador has had a huge bounce-back season.  Obviously, both goaltenders would classify as veterans, plus Eric Boulton...whatever he does.  The Devils will need their veterans, plus Alexei Ponikarovsky and Steve Bernier (or whoever inevitably replaces him in the next game) to provide secondary scoring, steady defense and consistent goaltending for a playoff run this season.

    So, it all begins tonight with a classic matchup against Our Hated Rivals from Manhattan.  The Devils dominated the first forty minutes last time these two teams met at Prudential Center, but they collapsed in the third period.  For the first time since the spring of 2006, the Rangers will play the Devils and Henrik Lundqvist won't start for the Rangers.  As good as Martin Biron is as a backup, this is a must-win for the Devils.  The schedule isn't easy, and they'll have to knock off some elite teams to get into the playoffs.

    JANUARY 25th, 2012: Devils ownership edition

    Now that we've reached the NHL All-Star break, there will be plenty of time for fans of teams with players that will be unrestricted free agents this coming summer to worry.  Such fan bases include the Nashville Predators (Ryan Suter, and Shea Weber is a restricted free agent as well) and the New Jersey Devils (Zach Parise).  Both fan bases realize how significant those respective players are to their franchise and that management only has one opportunity to handle the situation and they can't afford to blow it.  Specifically, the Devils, as you probably know, are in a financial mess right now.  To summarize, Ray Chambers and Brick City own 47% of the Devils, and they want to sell that stake in the team.  The team reportedly missed an $80 million payment earlier in the year and may resort to borrowing a chunk of that debt from the NHL.  Once the Stanley Cup Finals end, the Devils will likely declare bankruptcy, unless they find someone to buy part of the team and help out with those hefty payments.

    While the Devils have faced ownership problems in the past, this time, it's different.  The face of the franchise, Zach Parise, becomes a free agent on July 1st.  With all of the financial uncertainty surrounding the Devils, most people in hockey are speculating, and I do stress speculating that Lou Lamoriello is interested in trading Parise for future pieces, such as first round draft picks or young players.  Others suggest that the Devils will take their chances with Parise and make a playoff run with him.  If you've been reading Devils Daily for a while, you probably know my feeling about this: the Devils are not about to let Parise go.  They're going to try to re-sign him.  Parise will re-sign if given the right opportunity.  He might take a hometown discount.  He's not going to sign for nothing, though.  I still believe, although my confidence is shrinking by the day, that Zach Parise will be a Devil for life if it is financially possible to keep him.  The Devils need to get help with their ownership first.  You also probably know that I think that if Parise does leave, attendance will decline, TV ratings will suffer and revenue will be hurt even more, which won't attract investors to buy the team.  Parise is a fan-favorite; we all know that.  As sports are a business and you can never get too connected to a player, Parise leaving New Jersey, especially considering the circumstances, would devistate the franchise.  Perhaps other free agents next year (Zajac, Elias, etc.) would be less likely to stay with the uncertainty of the future.

    So how did this situation get so ugly?  Well, as with anything Devils-related, we, as fans, will never know the entire story.  Here's my personal opinion: the Devils took a few huge risks and assumed certain things would happen that would prevent what has actually happened this year, and they were wrong.  The first thing they did was they built an arena in downtown Newark that cost them a fortune.  I love the Prudential Center, don't get me wrong.  It's a massive upgrade from the Continental Airlines Arena in terms of being a "nice" building.  The facilities for the players are a tremendous improvement from the old arena as well, but it was still a massive risk moving to Newark in the first place.  I think the Devils assumed because of being close to Newark Penn Station, people would find it easier to get to the Prudential Center.  They probably figured that more people would use mass transit and attendance would spike dramatically.  It hasn't.

    During the final season of playing at CAA in 2006-07, the Devils averaged a mere 14,176 fans per game.  The following season, the first at the new Prudential Center, they averaged 15,564, which is a nice increase, but it didn't last long.  Attendance maxed out in 2008-09 at 15,790 fans per game.  It dipped off a bit in 2009-10, then slipped well under 15,000 fans per game in 2010-11, which probably has a lot to do with the team's awful first half of the season.  Through 23 home games this season at the All-Star break, the Devils are averaging 15,101 fans per game.  Since attendance was consistently declining at CAA, it has improved at the Prudential Center, but the Devils still aren't selling games out on a regular basis.  They always sell out Ranger games and usually sell out Penguins and Flyers games, thanks in part to some visitors for those games, but other than that, the building doesn't fill up.

    What must frustrate Devils management is that television ratings have been very good for the Devils since the massive TV contract with the MSG network was signed.  The Devils have reportedly cracked the top-10 in TV ratings multiple times since the 2004-05 lockout, and despite slipping this season, it has helped with revenue.  Also, no matter where the Devils go on the road, there are always Devils fans travelling with them.  Statistics don't lie: the Devils are mid-pack in the NHL with over 248,000 fans on their official team Facebook page (as of January 25th morning), which is a big of a spike as any team that isn't the Boston Bruins (frontrunners much??).  They are also within a couple hundred followers of 50,000 Twitter followers, which is also mid-pack in the league, yet attendance is among the bottom-third of the league.  The Devils are still a relatively young team.  The 30th anniversary of the team moving to New Jersey will be this summer, but 30 years and 3 Stanley Cup Championships should be enough time to develop such a fan base, and they have, but it doesn't show in the arena.

    With the Devils playing at the Prudential Center, they made a significant trade about two years ago.  They acquired Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers.  At the time, most people assumed it was simply the Devils renting a superstar winger to make a playoff run, but was it just that?  When Kovalchuk re-signed in New Jersey for the contract that the league did accept: 15 years and $100 million, many people speculated whether or not Lou Lamoriello actually wanted to pursue Kovalchuk or if the pressure to sign him was coming from primary owner Jeff Vanderbeek.  As I said earlier, the Devils took a huge risk with the new arena and they took a risk signing Kovalchuk.  They must have known that Chambers wanted to sell his stake in the team.  Was Vanderbeek trying to lure Russian billionaire and New Jersey Devils owner Mikhail Prokhorov to buying the Devils?  It was no coincidence that the Devils acquired Kovalchuk.  Prokhorov was never publically linked to the Devils, but if I remember correctly, he did mention that he wanted to stick with one team, the Nets.  I love Kovalchuk as a hockey player, and I think he is a great piece of the team, but it was an extremely risky investment to make, given the financial situation with the team.  Vanderbeek has a history of making risky business decisions, as he did with Lehman Brothers investment bank before the epic bank collapses that led to the economic recession a few years ago.

    The Devils need help.  They need investors to help them with their debt and with the franchise moving forward.  The unfortunate truth is that if they don't resolve this problem immediately, the franchise will suffer dramatically.  I personally can't imagine the Devils leaving New Jersey.  The city of Newark would hate to see the Prudential Center's main tenant leave, plus the Devils have a tremendous TV contract with MSG.  They also have about a quarter of a century remaining with their Prudential sponsorship.  Nelson Peltz, the owner of Wendy's, was rumored to be interested in buying the Devils back in November.  Making a playoff run would bring in more revenue and make the Devils attractive to potential investors.  Keeping Parise and Kovalchuk long-term would set the Devils up for success.  Parise, as a player, can be replaced.  Parise's value to the franchise, especially considering the circumstances, is more significant than that.  If the Devils can manage to keep Parise and make a playoff run, it would save the team.

    Finally, here's something I would like to know: when the Green Bay Packers struggled financially, they sold shares of the team to their fans.  That has worked incredibly well for them.  What would stop the Devils from doing the same?  Sell the 47% stake to the fans.  If you think about it, if 10% of the 248,000 Facebook fans chipped in $1,000, that's $25 million right there.  If half of the "fan base" invested $500 each, that would take care of $62.5 million.  Call me crazy, but I think that is realistic.  It's not as if you'd be throwing away that money.  Ultimately, fans would hopefully be encouraged to attend more games, watch more games, become more involved with the team and help the team become profitable again.  If that does occur, that investment of $500 can appreciate in value.  After all, wouldn't you make that investment to save your team?

    JANUARY 20th, 2012: Alexei Ponikarovsky edition
    About five weeks ago, Lou Lamoriello felt the need to acquire a defenseman that could help the Devils offensively.  He went out and got Kurtis Foster from Anaheim, and he's put up 7 points in 17 games, which isn't monumental, but it's an upgrade from Mark Fayne being on the power play...which he still is at times.  Still, because Andy Greene remains injured and now Henrik Tallinder is out 6-8 weeks, Foster could prove to be an important veteran defenseman for the Devils down the stretch and into the playoffs.

    Tonight, Lou made his second move of the season.  In comes veteran winger Alexei Ponikarovsky from Carolina in exchange for minor league defenseman Joe Sova and a 4th round draft pick.  This was a low risk trade, in my opinion.  Sova and a 4th rounder isn't much to give up for a guy who brings size and skill to the Devils' lineup.  The 4th round pick is also desposable because the Devils have Toronto's fourth rounder in the 2012 draft.  With that said, the Devils didn't just become Stanley Cup favorites because of this trade.  It helps, but not that much.

    After showing signs of being a dominant offensive player last season, things haven't exactly worked out with Mattias Tedenby this season.  He's registered a goal, five assists and a -15 +/- rating in 43 games this season.  This trade allows a much larger individual, Ponikarovsky, with plenty of NHL experience to step into Tedenby's place on the third line and allow Tedenby to return to AHL Albany to develop.  I wouldn't give up on Tedenby.  He can still figure out the NHL game.  He's 21 years old and this is his second season playing the North American rink.  He'll never win a Selke Trophy, but he can become a quality, top-6 NHL forward.

    As for the current version of the Devils, they add depth at forward with this move.  Lou Lamoriello is probably done trading at this point, since he commented tonight saying there would be no trade for a defenseman (that pretty much also guarantees there won't be a Parise trade before the deadline, as one potential move could have been Parise-for-Suter).  I still think the Devils should have acquired another Carolina Hurricane (Tim Gleason) or pursued a veteran defenseman, but I guess they're stuck with the group they have.  Perhaps Andy Greene can step up and help out when he gets back.

    Anyway, the Devils' newest addition to the lineup could turn out to be a pleasant surprise, who knows.  As long as he scores two goals, he's statistically an upgrade from Tedenby, I suppose.  After the All-Star break, once Travis Zajac returns from injury, the Devils lineup could look something like this:


    *I don't think they will call Palmieri up, but they should.  As I've said twenty times before, there's no need to keep Boulton and Janssen around.  I would prefer to keep neither, but at least one should be let go, whether it's via waivers or a demotion to the minors.  Palmieri at least has the ability to contribute offensively.  Boulton and Janssen have combined for one assist this season.  Plus, Josefson is too talented to waste on a fourth line with Boulton and Janssen.

    That's a very solid group of forwards.  Lou obviously envies how deep the Bruins are and wanted to improve his team's lineup.  If that lineup stays healthy (including defensemen), the Devils could be set up for a playoff run, which would be extremely important to the franchise.  I don't want to beat a dead horse with the Parise contract talks, but avoiding bankruptcy this summer and re-signing Parise would become a lot more realistic if the Devils can make a playoff run this season for three main reasons:

    1. The Devils still haven't won a playoff series since the Prudential Center opened.  They need to make some positive progress in that regard.
    2. They can prove to Parise that the Devils still have a winning attitude and want to compete for a Stanley Cup in the near future.
    3. Playoffs = revenue.  It helps in the short-term and also makes the Devils more attractive to potential buyers to pick up Ray Chambers/Brick City's stake in the team.

    JANUARY 12th, 2012
    Devils 2, Oilers 1 (OT).

    Following a performance that he wasn’t proud of, Johan Hedberg bounced back in a big way and the Devils got back in the win column with a 2-1 overtime win in Edmonton.  It wasn’t the best performance of the season by the team, but tonight, Hedberg’s goaltending kept the Devils in the game and gave them a chance to win it in overtime.  As they did last night, the Devils got off to a slow start.  They only managed four shots on Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, while allowing nine shots on Hedberg, but nobody scored in a fairly uneventful first period.  The Devils struggled with puck possession and with turnovers in the first period, but they survived it, which they obviously failed to last night in Calgary.  Hedberg’s two biggest saves probably came on Taylor Hall, who used his incredible speed all night to generate scoring chances.

    The Devils started to heat up in the second period.  They started to generate better scoring chances, but a pair of minor penalties, first by Zach Parise, followed by David Clarkson’s interference minor, left the Devils shorthanded.  But as they have all season, the Devils turned a shorthanded situation into a positive part of the game.  While the Oilers tried to send the puck across the point, and Ilya Kovalchuk intercepted the pass and took off on a breakaway.  He snapped the puck past Khabibulin glove-side and gave the Devils a 1-0 lead.  The goal was Kovy’s team-leading 17th of the season, his second shorthanded goal of the season and as a Devil, and it was a lead the Devils would hold on to for most of the game.  The Devils kept pressing in the second period, including a strong rush by Mattias Tedenby, despite Tedenby not registering a shot on goal, but the Oilers held the Devils to a 1-0 lead.

    The Devils continued to put pressure on the Oilers through the early minutes of the third period, but the Devils once again got into some penalty trouble.  At 8:32 of the third period, the Devils surrendered a power play goal the Edmonton.  Ales Hemsky tied the game for the Oilers, and they also started to warm up and keep the Devils trapped in their own end.  Pete DeBoer eventually used his timeout after an icing call, and it may have saved the Devils in this game.  The two teams exchanged chances late in the third period.  The Devils’ best chance late came as Ilya Kovalchuk nearly deflected a puck past Khabibulin.  Kovy had six shots on net today, and currently sits sixth in the NHL with nearly 160 shots on goal.

    Once the game went to overtime, the Devils picked up their 49th point of the season, which tied them with the Toronto Maple Leafs for sixth in the Eastern Conference.  The Devils, who went on a power play late in the third period, carried the momentum into overtime.  Ilya Kovalchuk one-timed Kurtis Foster’s feed, and it rebounded to Patrik Elias, who centered Zach Parise for the tap-in.  The Devils won it on a power play goal, and picked up their 50th point, so they pass Toronto and sit all alone sixth in the conference, just two points behind Ottawa for fifth.  The Devils finish their road trip Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg before a long homestand begins.

    Some game notes: Kovalchuk’s shorthanded goal was his second in the last four games and the team’s fourth straight game with a shorthanded goal.  Parise’s power play goal was the third straight game in which the Devils scored a power play goal and Parise’s first game-winning goal this season.  Kovalchuk also registered his fourth straight multi-point game and is the only Devil who is averaging a point per game this season: 38 points in 38 games.  The Devils blocked 26 Oilers shots tonight.  Parise, Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique have now combined for 21 points over the last four games.  The last time the Devils played the Oilers, last fall in New Jersey, it was Kovalchuk who won it in overtime on the power play.  Tonight, it was Parise’s turn for a game-winning power play overtime goal.

    It was a big win for the Devils tonight.  Even though they didn’t play their best game, they got the two points.  If they can win on Saturday, they’ll have gone 3-1 on the road trip and 5-1 since the loss to the Bruins.

    JANUARY 10th, 2012
    Devils 3, Flames 6.

    The last time the Devils were in Calgary in March 2010, they found themselves down four goals (5-1), but put forth a late surge that just fell short. Tonight was a very similar story. While Martin Brodeur didn’t last eight minutes after allowing two goals on five shots, backup Johan Hedberg couldn’t make the necessary saves to keep the Devils in the game early. The Devils struggled badly in the first period, and found themselves down 4-0 after one period, a period that also saw Adam Henrique drop the gloves with Calgary captain Jarome Iginla after Henrique checked Iginla. At that point, it didn’t look as if there was much to play for entering the second period, but the Devils looked determined to prove otherwise. The top line of Zach Parise-Adam Henrique-Ilya Kovalchuk had a dominant game, and combined for the game’s first goal. Ilya Kovalchuk scored to make it 4-1. Despite the surge, the Flames responded less than two minutes later and restored their four-goal lead.

    While it was still 5-1 Flames, Mark Fayne took a delay of game penalty that put Calgary on the power play. Ten seconds later, Zach Parise fed Adam Henrique for his second short-handed goal in two games to cut the Devils’ deficit to 5-2. Adam Larsson also recorded an assist on the goal. The Devils have now scored short-handed goals in three consecutive games. After two periods, the Devils trailed 5-2, but outshot Calgary 11-3 in the second period, and 17-11 overall. The Devils kept heating up and torched the Flames again six minutes into the third period. This time, it was Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk with some cross-ice passes that resulted in Elias’ power play goal, his 15th of the season, that cut the deficit to 5-3. Kovalchuk’s assist on the goal meant that his entire line (Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk) have each recorded multi-point games in three consecutive games.

    After the Elias goal, however, Miikka Kiprusoff made save after save, robbing the Devils of a dramatic comeback. Just minutes later, Jarome Iginla picked up a loose puck in the slot and beat Hedberg to make it 6-3, which held as the final score. Despite the loss, the Devils pushed until the final whistle. They even pulled Hedberg with six minutes remaining in the third while on the power play, but they couldn’t tally a fourth goal. They ended up outshooting the Flames, 21-3 in the third period and 38-14 overall. It was a very strong effort by the Devils despite a sluggish first period.

    Some final game notes: It’s also worth pointing out that Adam Henrique’s goal, assist and fight gave him the Gordie Howe hat trick, which for those who don’t know is an unofficial statistic in which a player records a goal, assist and fight in the same game. Ironically, Jarome Iginla also picked up a Gordie Howe hat trick of his own. Henrique’s two points tonight bring him up to 34 points, which is just one point behind injured rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the highest scoring rookie this season. Anton Volchenkov returned to the Devils’ lineup after missing the previous four with a right leg strain. It was also a tough night for Mark Fayne and Henrik Tallinder. Each finished the night with a -3 +/- rating.

    The Devils are right back on the ice Wednesday night in Edmonton. It will be interesting to see who Pete DeBoer decides to start in goal against the Oilers, since Brodeur was pulled and Hedberg allowed four goals. The initial plan was to start Brodeur in Calgary and Hedberg in Edmonton. Last year, the Devils rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to beat the Oilers, 4-3 in overtime on Ilya Kovalchuk’s game-winning goal. Mattias Tedenby scored his first career goal in that game.

    JANUARY 10th, 2012:

    Tonight, the Devils visit the Calgary Flames.  Luckily for the Devils, Jarome Iginla got his 500th career goal out of the way, so perhaps the big milestone will bring the team a letdown game???  Anyway, since Zach Parise’s contract seems to be the subject of talks once again, I figured I’d write about it…again.

    The latest “news” (I use the word ‘news’ lightly) is that Parise and his agent, Wade Arnott, have not spoken at all with Lou Lamoriello and it doesn’t seem like either side intends to do so in the near future.  Rich Chere’s piece from Monday describes what Parise is looking for as he decides where he’ll likely spend the majority of his remaining NHL playing career.  Zach Parise is a winner, and he wants to win.  If you look at the past 20 years, it would seem logical that Parise should re-sign in New Jersey, then.  After all, the Devils have been in the playoffs, won the conference and won more Stanley Cup championships than any other team in the Eastern Conference over the past two decades.  It isn’t that easy, however.  The Devils have a lot of difficult decisions to make over the coming months that may determine the long-term fate of the franchise.

    It all comes down to ownership, in my opinion.  Jeff Vanderbeek has to find someone or some group that is willing to make a significant investment in the Devils, and he needs to do so quickly.  The Devils could be headed towards bankruptcy by the summer if he fails to resolve the ownership issue.  If it gets to the summer with the ownership problems and Parise unsigned, I think it would be impossible to re-sign him, unless he was willing to take a huge hometown discount, at least for the near future.  Obviously, the money is always a huge part in any contract negotiation, but maybe the best option would be to do the opposite of what the Devils did with Kovalchuk’s contract; this is, backload the real money.  If Parise were willing to take a cut in his income for the next few years to let the Devils get their financial troubles resolved, then he could make money real dollars (not cap hit) later in the contract.

    Perhaps, then, if Parise really does want to play for a Stanley Cup contender, he’d be part of the solution in New Jersey.  After all, the Devils do have a foundation for a successful team.  Besides, the Devils finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference in 2009-10, and also had a stretch last season in which they won 23 out of 28 games (23-3-2).  Most of those winning teams are still in New Jersey, plus rising stars such as Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson have emerged.  If someone like Alexander Urbom, Eric Gelinas, Matt Taormina or long-term: Jonathan Merrill can prove themselves as quality NHL defensemen, and knowing that Andy Greene hasn’t played much this season, the Devils have a quality roster.  Obviously, they’ll need to bring in a veteran goaltender to pave the way for Scott Wedgewood or Keith Kinkaid (in my opinion, Wedgewood could be the goalie of the future, but that’s another story).

    The next factor that should be discussed is Parise’s other options.  Some teams that have been “rumored” to be interested in Parise’s services this season have been Minnesota, Toronto and Los Angeles.  Now, with all due respect to those organizations, none of them have made a true Stanley Cup run in recent memory and let’s be honest, none of them are Stanley Cup-bound in the immediate future (I will say that Toronto is probably the closest).  There’s also something to be said for winning with the team that drafted you.  Zach Parise is not LeBron James.  He doesn’t have a massive plan to bolt from New Jersey just to play elsewhere with his friends.  If given the right opportunity and offer, I definitely believe Parise would be thrilled to stay with the Devils.

    It isn’t that simple, though.  As I mentioned in the past, Ilya Kovalchuk is the only forward that the Devils forward signed beyond the summer of 2013.  Everyone from Travis Zajac to Adam Henrique to Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, Mattias Tedenby, David Clarkson, etc. are all either restricted free agents or unrestricted free agents by the summer of 2013.  That means Lou Lamoriello is going to somehow find a way to keep at the very least, “most” of those players.  So in terms of the team’s long-term fate, the coming months really do mean a tremendous amount.  The Devils can be Cup contenders if they all stay or the laughing stock of the Eastern Conference if they all go.

    So if the Devils can somehow prove to Parise that they will be a Cup contender in the long-run and are willing to make the investment in Parise to lock him up long-term, can they do it?  That question must be answered before the trade deadline, in my opinion.  If the trade deadline passes and Parise is still a Devil, they need to re-sign him at all costs.  If either side realizes that a deal is not going to get done, Parise must be traded.  The Devils cannot afford to let him leave this summer without getting a substantial return.  Had he left last summer, the Devils could have received compensation as great as two first round draft picks and two additional draft picks, which could come in handy, because the Devils still need to forfeit a first round pick in one of the next three drafts due to the Kovalchuk contract penalty.  If Parise wants to leave for whatever reason, the Devils need to make a dramatic trade if they want to remain competitive.  The least I would personally be satisfied with as a return for Parise would be Jonathan Bernier, Vyacheslav Voynov and a draft pick from L.A., Shea Weber from Nashville or Luke Schenn and Nazem Kadri from Toronto. 

    That’s how significant Parise is to the Devils.  He’s the captain, he’s the fan favorite, he’s the new face of the franchise.  He is the Derek Jeter of the Devils.  That’s not exaggeration at all.  He’s more than 35 goals and 70 points.  Parise is a special player that doesn’t come around every day.  This is one of the biggest decisions facing Lou Lamoriello in his career.  The Devils overcame losing Scott Niedermayer, Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski, Brian Gionta, Paul Martin and others, but they won’t overcome losing Parise.  This is a delicate situation, and it’s a huge test for Lou Lamoriello.  He can’t afford to screw this up.

    JANUARY 7th, 2012:
    Devils 3, Penguins 1.

    It was one of the Devils' most significant victories of the season, in my opinion.  Tonight's 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins was an impressive effort after a pretty slow start.  After being outplayed and outshot, 12-3 in the first period, the Devils seemed to settle in, and while they didn't necessarily "take the game over," they matched the Penguins, shift for shift.  Of course, even without Crosby and Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh still has talent.  Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz all had tremendous offensive chances all night, and Martin Brodeur turned in one of his best performances of the season.  His reaction time was great, he controlled his rebounds and really bailed out the Devils defense.

    Offensively, it was the top line coming through again.  Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique and Zach Parise each had two points in the win over the Panthers last night, and they each matched their production again tonight.  While Malkin's blast was the Penguins only goal, and put them up 1-0, Henrique opened the scoring for the Devils.  As he went on a shorthanded breakaway, Marc-Andre Fleury appeared to make the save, but Henrique dug the puck out from under Fleury and buried it.  The refs blew the play dead, but they rightfully reversed the call and the Devils tied the game.  I guess when Crosby isn't in the lineup, the refs are allowed to make calls against Pittsburgh.

    Shortly after Henrique's goal, Ilya Kovalchuk took over.  He was stopped by Fleury on a breakaway of his own, but then more impressively, Fleury quickly got to the post and stopped Kovy's second shot.  Minutes later, Kovy's huge slapshot from high in the slot beat Fleury cleanly.  He then assisted on a very nice sequence of tic-tac-toe passes that led to Dainius Zubrus' power play goal in the third period to make it 3-1 Devils.  Kovalchuk played less than 20 minutes tonight, but he made each of them count.  Besides a goal - his second straight game-winning goal - and an assist, he had 8 shots and 11 attempts.  Even though tonight was game #41, Kovy is in second-half mode already.

    I thought Patrik Elias' line struggled tonight, and it started with Elias' 4-for-17 effort in the face-off circle.  Yes, that line has been the best line all season, but I think DeBoer puts Elias out there for too many big face-offs.  He's well under 50% for the season in the face-off circle.  I think Zubrus should take more draws on that line until Zajac and Josefson come back.  To be fair, Eric Boulton played hard tonight.  He actually had the game's first shot on goal and didn't do anything particularly stupid tonight.  Not coincidentally, Janssen and Sestito did not play tonight.  Steve Zalewski has played well, but only won 4 of 13 draws himself.  Mattias Tedenby played very well tonight.  In just over 10 minutes of ice time, he managed three shots on goal and looked good with Clarkson and Zalewski.  In Nick Palmieri's return to the NHL lineup, I didn't really think he stood out at all.  It will be interesting to see what the Devils do with him.

    Defensively, I thought it was another rough game for Henrik Tallinder and Mark Fayne.  They struggled clearing the puck at times, and were on the ice for far more chances against than for.  Matt Taormina had an up and down game.  Adam Larsson was very strong again for the Devils.  He hasn't gotten involved offensively that much lately, but he's doing what he needs to do: shut his opponent down.  He finished as a +1 tonight and led the team with close to 24 minutes of ice time.  He's not putting up the flashy numbers, and someday, he'll put up more points, but for now, he's doing an excellent job for a 19-year old defenseman.  I think he and Henrique have legitimate chances to be Calder Trophy finalists this season.

    Now, yesterday I was writing about how I wanted Sestito/Janssen/Boulton gone, and two of them were gone tonight.  Boulton played a decent game tonight, and I think it's because he played with two hockey players tonight, rather than Sestito and Janssen.  Boulton-Carter-Palmieri isn't a great fourth line, and I'd still rather see Zharkov in Boulton's spot (and Boulton as the 13th forward), but I liked tonight's fourth line a lot more than last night.  The Devils have a few days off before Tuesday's game in Calgary.  They're playing much better than the week before, but they need to play better in front of their goaltenders.  Hedberg was good enough last night and Brodeur was stellar tonight (as Lundqvist was the night before in Pittsburgh).  Calgary and Edmonton are very "winnable" games, and the Devils need to win them both.  They're 5th in the East right now with exactly half of the season ahead: 23-16-2 (48 points pro-rates to 96 points), all things considered, that's a very strong first half.

    JANUARY 6th, 2012:
    Panthers 2, Devils 5.

    Patrik Elias' 1,000th game was a special one for him from the first drop of the puck to the final buzzer.  I'll bet NHL.com's headline will read "Finishing your Czech" or something stupid like that.  Regardless of what amateur headline creaters come up with, Elias did it all tonight: he had a goal, two assists, drew two penalties and played a solid 2-way game, as he always does.  His pass to set up Ilya Kovalchuk's game-winning goal was a perfect pass, and it needed to be or it would have been turned over to the Panthers.  I didn't think Elias played that well last week, but he made up for it tonight.  What's more: he even had the best post-game on-ice interview of the season, as he thanked the fans after Deb Placey asked him if he had anyone special to thank tonight.

    As for the rest of the team, they played a very even game with the Florida Panthers tonight.  The Panthers played last night at MSG, and they looked tired.  They still competed and made life difficult for the Devils through two periods.  With the game tied entering the third period, I was nervous about another third period collapse.  But tonight was not going to be another letdown.  Elias patiently waited as Kovy forced his way by the Florida defense and then tapped the puck by Jacob Markstrom.  From there, Johan Hedberg made the big saves (his biggest save came early in the third period) and despite a late delay of game penalty by Zach Parise, despite the puck going into the Devils' bench, NOT over the glass, Kovalchuk scored his second goal in a row into an empty net and Parise eventually scored another empty netter, which are nice ways to pad their stats.

    Obviously, the Devils played a very poor game against the Bruins Wednesday.  I thought it was Elias, Sykora and Zubrus' worst game as a line of the season.  They bounced back in a big way tonight.  The Devils also needed more offensive production from Kovy, Parise and Henrique, and even though two of the goals were empty netters, each recorded a pair of points.  Henrique scored his 11th goal of the season to open the scoring.  Also, I thought Adam Larsson bounced back after a tough game against Boston.  He played a very strong game, as did Matt Taormina.  Taormina, Fayne and Tallinder all recorded assists as well.  Steve Zalewski didn't look overmatched, which is important for his first NHL game in a while and first with the team.

    Now, it just wouldn't be a Devils Daily without some complaints.  Personally, I'm fine with Mattias Tedenby being a scratch tonight.  He needs some time off, in my opinion.  He needs time to watch some games from the press box (or suite) and somehow gain his confidence back.  My problem is that Peter DeBoer decided to scratch him while Travis Zajac is still out of the lineup.  Although Zalewski played a decent game, Tim Sestito moved to the third line and both Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen played.  I don't understand why Sestito is on the third line and I still can't figure out why Boulton and Janssen dress for the Devils every night. 

    The Devils should look at what Brian Burke did in Toronto and follow his direction: get rid of the "enforcers."  Why?  There is no need for an enforcer anymore.  Look at the Detroit Red Wings.  As of today, they have had just six fighting majors all season, yet you don't see players targeting Detroit players just because they don't have a heavyweight ready to challenge them.  Detroit, as a hockey team, has earned the respect of their opponents (well, except for Todd Bertuzzi, I suppose).  Other teams aren't going to target the Devils just because Boulton and Janssen aren't in the lineup.  If a Devil is targeted, Bryce Salvador could certainly step up and defend him, Dainius Zubrus and Kurtis Foster certainly have the size to stand up for a player as well.  I really wish the Devils could ice four lines instead of having a useless fourth line that hurts the team every night.  They're awful.  Let's see Jacob Josefson center Vladimir Zharkov and Nick Palmieri on the fourth line when Josefson returns.  Hopefully he and Zajac will help the Devils win more face-offs, since they're 29th in the NHL in that category, too.

    The Devils are on to Pittsburgh tomorrow night.  Despite losing 3-1 to the Rangers, the Penguins dominated the Rangers in terms of shots on goal, puck possession, etc.  They'll come out strong, for sure.  The Devils will need an effort better than tonight's to beat them.  Who knows, maybe they'll even have a decent third line too.

    JANUARY 5th, 2012:

    I thought I'd take an off day to take a look at the state of the team and an updated look at what needs to change.  Obviously, many people are going to look at the Devils' 6-1 loss at the hands of the Bruins and question how good the team actually is right now.  You can't do that.  The Bruins are playing at a level so high that nobody in the league would have a chance to beat them.  If the playoffs started today, they'd probably sweep any other team in the Eastern Conference.  So, yes, the Devils played rather poorly last night, but it isn't the beginning of a free fall and a collapse out of the playoffs.  In fact, I think it's a good thing that they were humbled a bit.  Now they understand how tough a team can be to play against.  They now realize that they have a lot of work to do.  To be honest, I think they have the talent to be a playoff contender, as soon as this spring.  Before then, however, here's what needs to happen, in my opinion.

    The power play - Of course I have to bring up the power play.  While it hasn't produced a tremendous number of Devils goals this season, it has produced plenty of goals against.  @TheyCallMeCapon wants to know why the Devils are giving up that many short-handed goals.  Even without Patrice Bergeron's breakaway goal that occured seconds after a Devils power play, the Devils have allowed 12 short-handed goals this season.  No other team has given up more than 5 short-handers.

    @V4Daddy asks (as he often does) why Ilya Kovalchuk hasn't taken a seat during the power play.  While I understand the frustration amongst fans, certainly including myself, benching the player that was supposed to revitalize the Devils' power play is not the way to go.  I understand that Kovalchuk is the Devils' most scrutinized player, and no matter what happens - even if the Devils win multiple Stanley Cup championships with him - he'll always be the easiest individual to pick on because of his contract.  To an extent, that is well deserved pressure.  He's proven he can score 40 goals perennially, and let's be honest: he hasn't scored at nearly that kind of pace since joining the Devils.  I believe Kovy is a guy that should be able to score on his own regardless of how bad the team's power play is, just because of his natural ability.  I think Kovy is well overdue to be moved off the point.  Whether or not that move improves his goal production remains to be seen, and Kovy is certainly not the sole reason the Devils are giving up short-handed goals, but a change is very necessary.  The other necessary change is firing Adam Oates.  If anything, a new voice is badly needed.

    Who plays with who - @Kovalrise and @JoshReinweb wonder how Jacob Josefson's return will impact the team.  Well, hopefully it will mean the last we see of Eric Boulton this season.  Since that won't happen, I would assume Tim Sestito gets bumped out and suddenly the Devils have a surplus of centers.  So what do they do with them?

    I don't think any team can have too many quality centers or quality defensemen.  Obviously, Adam Henrique has earned the right to play on the top line this season.  Since he, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise have cooled off a bit, perhaps now is the right time to split them up.  Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing Patrik Elias moving to the wing, and having he and Petr Sykora play around either Josefson or Travis Zajac.  If that doesn't work, the lines could be completely shuffled.  Perhaps Dainius Zubrus moves up with Parise and Henrique.  Maybe Kovalchuk and Zajac play together.

    As of today, with the team the way it is right now, I'd like to see Parise-Henrique-Clarkson, Kovalchuk-Zajac-Zubrus, Elias-Josefson-Sykora.  That gives the Devils three very solid lines.  Clarkson, a puck hog, could work well with Parise and Henrique, two guys who are very good at scoring on second chances and also pass the puck very well.  Zubrus and Kovy showed some chemistry in the past, plus Zubrus once worked with Alex Ovechkin.  His size, Zajac's play-making ability and Kovy's shot could be a solid line, and then I feel Elias, Josefson and Sykora makes a very balanced third line.  The odd man out would be Mattias Tedenby, who just hasn't cashed in enough to deserve a spot in the lineup right now.

    Hot stove - @HenriqueSuave14 wants to know if the Devils should add someone, trade someone or do both.  In my opinion, Zach Parise is the wild card in all of this.  If the Devils are serious about keeping Parise for the long-term, they don't really have many options as far as adding forwards.  The only thing they could do is add a face-off specialist, similar to David Steckel last season.  Zajac and Josefson will help the Devils in the face-off department, but right now, the Devils struggle to win draws, and last night's 12-for-42 performance against Boston really proved that.

    The area that the Devils need to improve on is their blue line.  There is simply too much pressure on Adam Larsson right now.  Even though he's been taken off the power play, he's still the go-to guy in many situations.  The bottom line is that he's 19 years old, and as talented as he is, he's not ready to carry the team's defense.  Bryce Salvador has been excellent in his shut-down role this season, but outside of those two, there isn't much.

    Similarly, @CaLORrA asks about Henrik Tallinder.  I'm not a Henrik Tallinder fan.  I feel like he's too slow and always hooks people to make up for his lack of speed.  Anton Volchenkov isn't the shot blocker he was in Ottawa, plus he's injury prone, and seems a step behind when he attempts to hit someone.  Mark Fayne has shown signs of promise, but he's not as good as the team is trying to force him into being right now.  Matt Taormina is another guy that will be a quality puck-moving defenseman down the road, but he's not there yet.  In order for the Devils to do anything in the playoffs this season - let alone get to the playoffs - they'll need to add a quality, 2-way veteran defenseman.  As Todd Cordell tweeted this morning, Anaheim is having a fire sale, and Lubmor Visnovsky could be the best option.  He'd probably cost the Devils two quality prospects (Tedenby, Josefson, Urbom, etc.) and a draft pick.  It would be a bold move to make, but I think it would make the Devils a much improved team.  Visnovsky is 34 years old, so he's probably got a few more good years left.  Joni Pitkanen could be a more realistic option.

    If Parise is traded this season, which I honestly doubt will happen, the Devils could become legitimate players for Shea Weber or Ryan Suter and even a goaltender.  Still, I don't think that will happen.

    Finances - Finally, as @AveryBanner asks, much of what happens with Zach Parise's contract will depend on if Jeff Vanderbeek can get someone to invest in the team.  Vanderbeek owned 47% of the team, as did Brick City's group, and Brick City dumped their share on Vanderbeek, who is in a tremendous amount of debt.  Despite the Prudential Center being one of the world's most profitable arenas, Vanderbeek and the Devils are in serious trouble.  That can't be inspiring to Zach Parise.  He must look at Kovalchuk and wonder how the Devils will be able to afford keeping him.  They're not bankrupt right now, but if they can't get some significant help with ownership by June, they'll be in very serious trouble.  They're not going to leave New Jersey, but the franchise won't be in good shape, off the ice or on-ice.

    JANUARY 4th, 2012:
    Bruins 6, Devils 1.

    The Devils scored first, and outshot Boston 16-11 in the first period.  Everything else that occured on the Prudential Center ice tonight was awful.  I wouldn't go as far as to say the team didn't show up tonight, but the Bruins made the Devils look really bad for most of the game.  The Devils barely had a high-quality scoring chance all night.  Tim Thomas has an easy night, and his only falter was a David Clarkson wrister on the power play early on.  This game is one of those games that coaches want to throw away.  It's very disappointing too, because it looked like the Devils' fifth sellout in the last six home games (edit: they fell short of a capacity crowd) and the Devils played Boston very tough in Boston, only to come up short, 4-3.
    In summary, the Bruins outworked, out-muscled and completely outplayed the Devils in all three zones tonight.  The Devils couldn't generate any offense.  The Devils' early strategy was shoot everything at Thomas.  They registered 16 first period shots on goal, but none of them were very high-quality scoring chances.  Most notably, Zdeno Chara shut down Zach Parise, Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk all night.  Claude Julien was able to create some mismatches at times, and had Patrice Bergeron's line out against the Devils' fourth line, and that didn't help the Devils, either.  The Bruins owned the neutral zone as well, and also dominated in terms of puck possession.  The Devils were unable to keep the Bruins out of the Devils' zone for long stretches of time.  The Devils were also bit by a familiar problem: allowing scoring chances short-handed.  Patrice Bergeron's breakaway goal wasn't shorthanded, but it came just seconds after a Devils power play had expired.
    While the Devils were outplayed all night long, as the Bruins clearly showed how dominant they can be, the players who stood out from a Devils' standpoint, and in a negative way were Henrik Tallinder, Adam Larsson and Mark Fayne.  As far as Fayne is concerned, he couldn't make plays when he needed to and on Boston's second goal, he was unable to stop a cross-crease pass short-handed.  Tallinder and Larsson got burned all night, and were on the ice for several goals against.  As far as forwards are concerned, Patrik Elias' line, with Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus, struggled heavily all night long.  Martin Brodeur certainly wasn't great, but there was little he could have done on most of the goals against.  Six goals against ties his career high for a single game.  I would hope Johan Hedberg will start Friday against the Panthers.
    David Clarkson's power play goal is his 15th of the season, which leads the Devils.  That's great and all, but Clarkson shouldn't be leading the team in goals.  Parise, Henrique and Kovalchuk have suddenly become dormant over the past few games.  They weren't awful tonight, and they weren't bad in Ottawa, either, but they're not generating the quality chances or quantity of chances that they were several games ago.  They've also been noticably missing from the box score in terms of point scoring recently.  Again, aside from Clarkson (and Elias' line up until tonight), the Devils haven't done much offensively of late.  Combined with the poor defense played tonight, the recipe for disaster was spelled out for this game.
    On the bright side, it was nice to hear Doc Emrick calling a Devils game again.  Sometimes you forget how great he was until he's back.  That slightly eased some of the humiliation tonight, although losing 6-1 at home on national TV is still downright awful.  This game was far worse than the 6-1 loss in Colorado, at least in my opinion.
    One final note: at one point, the Devils had lost 15 out of 17 face-offs.  They finished the night having won just 12 out of 42 draws.  I know they're missing Travis Zajac (who was just sore) and Jacob Josefson, but 12 out of 42 is completely unacceptable.  It meant that the Devils were behind the play before it even started.  Ironically, Patrice Bergeron, known for his face-off abilities, was only 3-for-6 in the face-off circle.  Elias and Henrique struggled in that department badly.  That's quite symbollic of how miserable of a game this was...

    JANUARY 2nd, 2012:
    Devils 2, Senators 3 (OT).

    Don't be fooled by the Devils leading 2-0 through 40 minutes; this was not a good effort by them.  The shots on goal were close, 32-29 Ottawa, but Ottawa absolutely dominated in terms of possessions and shot attempts.  Martin Brodeur was absolutely phenomenal through two periods.  He made some very impressive saves, and took another shutout into the third period.  It didn't take long for things to break down in the third, though.  Sloppy defensive coverage resulted in Jason Spezza's breakaway goal.  Brodeur was able to make saves previously on high-quality Ottawa scoring chances - the post also bailed him out twice - but Spezza finally beat him.  Things got worse when they allowed a league-leading 12th shorthanded goal.  Following a dangerous, careless pass by Kurtis Foster on the power play, which didn't result in a turnover, the Devils did break down again.  Ironically, they had two defensemen on the ice, on the power play, and Brodeur allowed an awful short-side goal.  That tied the game.

    To be fair, Craig Anderson was excellent as well.  He's been great against the Devils.  He was tough when he was in Florida and Colorado, too, especially against the Devils.  I remember a few games where he made upwards of 40 saves against the Devils.  Tonight, he allowed a pair of goals in the second period, and both were on broken plays.  Off a face-off, Petr Sykora fired one that Anderson stopped, but Dainius Zubrus just got the puck across the line.  That's Sykora's 699th career point and Zubrus' 200th goal.  Mattias Tedenby had a great chance that David Clarkson tapped home for his team-leading 14th goal of the season.  Yeah, Clarkson leads the team in goals.  That is strange.  Anderson was beat on two other occasions: Travis Zajac's steal in the offensive zone that he snapped off the post and rolled across the goal line, but wouldn't go in and then Zubrus hit the post on a one-timer late in the third period.  Other than that, Anderson was great, including several great saves on Ilya Kovalchuk, many of which were on odd man rushes.

    In overtime, the Devils were very sloppy.  Henrik Tallinder missed the puck behind the net, and then Brodeur caught a puck, and then put it back into play, then turned it over.  They survived that, generated some chances to win it, but Clarkson took a very ill-advised penalty.  He really can't be doing that.  If he's going to be undisciplined, he can't be out there late in the third or in overtime.  Peter DeBoer is very tough on Tedenby for his defensive woes.  He needs to stop giving Clarkson free passes when he makes bad decisions.  I know DeBoer likes Clarkson from their Kitchener days, and he's been good at times, but he cost the Devils the game.  Ottawa had a full, two-minute 4-on-3 power play, and Daniel Alfredsson wristed one by Brodeur to win it.

    This was a costly overtime loss.  The Devils had a two-goal lead in the third period.  It's the unofficial second half of the season, and Ottawa is in the same "bubble" range as the Devils.  They can't be giving games away as they did tonight.  Instead of recording two points and the Senators none, Ottawa gets two and the Devils only get one.  Things like that can definitely come back to haunt teams in April.  The Devils will have a very difficult test on Wednesday when the Bruins come to town.  They played them tough the first time they met this season in Boston, but fell 4-3.  Let's hope for a better effort Wednesday.  They really got outplayed tonight.

    DECEMBER 31st, 2011:
    Penguins 1, Devils 3.
    The Devils' winning formula was the same as Wednesday night: score early and hold the lead for two and a half periods.  That formula propelled the Devils to 3 Stanley Cups before the lockout.  I wouldn't say it was a "textbook" start, though.  The first period was wild and unpredictable.  The two teams exchanged scoring chances, but it was the Devils, yes the Devils (against the Penguins) who benefited from some penalty calls in the first period.  First of all, the Devils kept swarming the net, narrowly missing a series of scoring chances, but a penalty shot was awarded after the puck was gloved by Brooks Orpik in the crease, and Ilya Kovalchuk snapped it 5-hole on Marc-Andre Fleury.  The Devils then had a full two-minute 5-on-3 following a high-stick and unsportsmanlike penalty by Arron Asham (good to see him still helping the Devils) and then Jordan Staal's penalty made it a 5-on-3.  Kovalchuk's wrister found its way to Patrik Elias' stick, and although Elias hit the post, David Clarkson was there to tap it in at the end of the period.

    The craziness of the first period resulted in a very defensive final 40 minutes.  Martin Brodeur took over the game, making several very impressive saves, especially with his glove.  Fleury saw fewer pucks, but matched Brodeur through the mid-way point of the third period.  On the only Penguins goal, a power play goal by Chris Kunitz, I guess Brodeur could have stayed deeper in his crease, as the point shot went wide and then Kunitz buried the bounce off the boards.  Obviously the Devils have made dramatic progress when it comes to holding a lead from not even two weeks ago.  The Devils certainly gave up chances to the Penguins, including a few unfortunate odd-man rushes, but they've been able to shut teams down and have gotten the goaltending to hold on and win these games.

    Just a few comments on some individuals: I thought Patrik Elias had a poor game overall.  He missed an open net on the power play that did result in Clarkson's goal, and did hit the post, and was robbed by Fleury late in the game, although he didn't get all of that shot.  His passes weren't the typical accurate Elias.  Other than the Buffalo game, in which he set up Petr Sykora's two goals, he hasn't looked great since he battled with "flu-like symptoms."  I thought Kovalchuk had good game, not great game.  Again, he missed a few passes and missed the net on some of his shots, but he came through when necessary and recorded points on all three goals.  Travis Zajac didn't look 100%, and he hasn't yet since his return from injury.  Also, the defensemen as a whole did a great job today, especially because they were a five man unit for much of the game after Anton Volchenkov's apparent injury.  Bryce Salvador continues to be a phenomenal shut-down man this season, and even Henrik Tallinder was solid for the most part.

    For whatever reason, Peter DeBoer has the Devils playing smarter hockey lately.  They still take chances occasionally, but they're much more careful and defensive, especially with the lead.  They're still giving up high-quality shorthanded chances, so that's still an area of concern.  As a New Year's Resolution, the Devils certainly need to continue to hold leads and somehow improve the power play (starting with keeping Clarkson away from the face-off circle).  The other big New Year's Resolution should be to re-sign Zach Parise long-term, which as of midnight tonight will be legal per the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement!

    DECEMBER 28th, 2011:
    Sabres 1, Devils 3.
    Petr Sykora played his best game of the season tonight, and that was the difference as the Devils beat the Sabres, and made it look easy.  Yes, as poorly as the Devils played for much of the loss in Carolina, they played that well tonight for 60 minutes.  They didn't really have any bad breakdowns tonight.  It looked like, well, a Devils hockey game.  They didn't score on the power play (and didn't allow a shorthanded goal), and while they did surrender a power play goal to Tomas Vanek, they shut down Buffalo tonight.

    Tonight's three stars really tell the story of who shined tonight: Adam Larsson, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora.  Zach Parise, Adam Henrique and Tim Sestito, yes Sestito, also played very well tonight.  Henrique assisted on Parise's deflection goal on Mark Fayne's point shot.  Fayne was pretty solid as well tonight, as was much of the Devils defense tonight.  Elias set up both of Sykora's two goals (and set up Sykora for many chances at a hat trick).  Adam Larsson had one of his best efforts of the season as well, and Bryce Salvador has been helping him out, too.  He shut down his assignments all night.  He was physical when he needed to be, he lifted the forward's stick when necessary and didn't allow any Buffalo player to break free from him.

    In the third period, the Devils finally found a balance between attacking and defending.  Buffalo never really generated any "dangerous" offensive chances and never sustained any pressure on the Devils.  Because of this, Martin Brodeur really did look like the 'old' (or young) Brodeur.  He made some big saves when he needed to, although the Devils helped him out most of the night.  Brodeur nearly had a multi-point effort.  He assisted on Sykora's first goal, and took three shots at the empty net goal late in the third period.  I bet he's envious of Cam Ward's recent "goal..."

    As a side note, Anton Volchenkov recorded another assist tonight, his third in two games.  While Dainius Zubrus did most of the forechecking down low, I don't think he ever touched the puck, and then Elias set up Sykora's second goal.  Also a side note, Parise was fantastic back-checking tonight.  He really should be considered for the Selke Trophy one of these years.  His linemate, Ilya Kovalchuk, was pretty quiet tonight, except for the early power plays, when he was firing away, but there was no production from him tonight.  Finally, Eric Boulton still sucks.  His hit in the second period generated a mini-line brawl, and well, Boulton didn't play much after that.  Peter DeBoer continues to love his fourth line.  My opinion is that if Tim Sestito is going to keep playing, especially on a different line, he needs to take the face-offs, because he's good at that.

    So tonight was a major bounce-back from Monday's lackluster effort.  It'll take a similar effort on Saturday to beat the Penguins.  I'd guess Martin Brodeur will start again, and he's deserved it as far as I'm concerned.  Johan Hedberg wasn't great in Carolina, and as long as the Devils' defense helps Brodeur out, he'll be fine.  I still maintain my prediction that Marty has one more goal left in him before he retires.

    DECEMBER 27th, 2011:

    The Devils return to the Prudential Center ice Wednesday night as the Buffalo Sabres come into town.  On Monday, the Devils did a lot of good things, presumably.  For example, they all made it to the team bus, they all arrived at the arena and they all stood for the national anthem.  After that, however, they didn't really do much very well.  I'd like to briefly write about my opinion of what I think needs improvement for the Buffalo game.

    First of all, Adam Larsson will be back in the lineup.  He's been improving as every game passes.  He'll certainly help the Devils, although I wouldn't say he'll help cutting back on defensive zone turnovers.  I guess Henrik Tallinder is also a possibility to return to the lineup.  Whatever, I guess.

    Now, of course, everyone is mocking Ilya Kovalchuk after the game he had in Carolina.  I'm a Kovy supporter, as you probably know.  He's a superstar player, he's led the Devils in scoring since he was traded to the Devils (thanks to @SpeakoftheDevs for that tidbit) and he adds a dimension to the Devils that they haven't had in a long time.  Like every single player on the Devils, he makes mistakes; big contracts don't make players immune to human error.  That's all I have to say about that.  If you want to hate on Kovy, I can't stop you, but he's a huge part of the Devils, and whether you like it or not, he's not going anywhere any time soon.

    I've also noticed that Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique, as a line, have dominated puck possession and scoring chances while they're on the ice much better over the last two weeks or so.  Using Corsi and advanced statistics, that trio, which were all in ugly negative numbers in terms of net scoring chances, have all been generating several excellent chances recently.  I hope they don't get broken up because of one poor effort on Monday, and I don't think they will.  The Petr Sykora-Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus line continues to be the Devils' best line in terms of puck possession.

    Finally, it's time for another discussion about the Devils absolutely abysmal power play.  If you look at net goals while on the power play this season, the Devils are dead last in the NHL with an awful +6 power play goal production; that is: 17 power play goals for and 11 shorthanded goals against.  The next worst teams are +13.  I'm not breaking any news to anyone when I say that's a huge problem.  It's so huge that it puts all "huge" holiday sales events to shame, because this is a much huger deal (shockingly, "huger" is, in fact, a real world, for those Scrabble players out there...).

    I'm completely puzzled with the power play right now.  The only thing to do at this point is to fire Adam Oates.  I just don't see any dramatic turnaround with this power play without a change in the coach.  The Devils clearly have some issues to work on between now and the end of the regular season, but I think they could very realistically make the playoffs, and hopefully they won't be one round and done.  A significant helping hand to making the playoffs would be improving the power play.  The Devils need to act now.  The fact that they aren't scoring is bad enough, but the fact that their power play is consistently a momentum-killer and they've allowed 11 goals while on the power play is going to hurt them dramatically when you look at the playoff picture.

    I'm certainly no coach, but there are a couple of obvious things that need to change on the power play.  First of all, David Clarkson cannot be taking faceoffs.  For some unknown reason, DeBoer and Oates insist that Clarkson takes faceoffs on the power play.  He's taken 96 draws, and has won just 38 of them...39.6%.  The Devils have Travis Zajac (59.4%) and Adam Henrique (49.8%), so why is Clarkson taking draws?!?!  The other main thing that must be changed are the personnel that work the point.  If the Devils want to work an umbrella on the power play, that's great.  Ilya Kovalchuk can play the left side, but they need to get two defensemen involved with the power play.  Isn't that why Kurtis Foster came to New Jersey?  Foster, Larsson, Mark Fayne and Matt Taormina have received power play time this year, and let's be honest, they can't be much worse than the forwards that have worked the points this season.  The bottom line is that Kovalchuk can't be at the point for now.  He's under too much pressure and when things aren't going well, there's no need to force the issue with him.  Even if the Devils don't dramatically improve their ability to score on the power play, hopefully they'll at least stop the shorthanded nonsense.

    That's all I've got for now.  Hopefully the Devils come out and reverse their effort in Carolina when they host Buffalo.  The Sabres have been mediocre at best of late, although they jumped all over the Caps the other night early.  Hopefully the Devils can do that to the Sabres this time (like the last time the two teams met: a 5-3 Devils win in Buffalo).

    DECEMBER 26th, 2011:
    Devils 2, Hurricanes 4.

    I'll be pretty brief tonight.  I split the night between the Devils/Canes game and the World Junior Championship game between USA and Denmark, but it didn't take someone watching the Devils game to decide that the Devils played an awful game tonight.  They came out to a decent start over the first 6-7 minutes or so, but they obviously didn't score early and once Ryan Carter took an ill-advised 5-minute major penalty and received a game misconduct.  Johan Hedberg also made a key early save on Chad LaRose's breakaway.  I think when you consider Brendan Shanahan's criteria for a suspension (intent of hit, past history and injury), Carter will probably be suspended for a game or two.  I'd be shocked if it was anything more than 2 games for Carter.  Still, the Canes took a roughing minor, so the Devils only had to kill 3 minutes of a Carolina power play.  Zach Parise also took a weak penalty during the major, but the Devils survived it all.

    It wasn't until the Devils went on a power play of their own for Hedberg to break.  Brendan Sutter sniped one past Hedberg on a shorthanded odd man rush.  That was an inexcusable 11th shorthanded goal against for the Devils this season.  My personal opinion of that play was that when Ilya Kovalchuk moved down and tried to keep that puck alive in the zone, nobody was backing him up.  They didn't have good communication on that play, as usual on their power play.  The Devils got outworked on that play and most of the night.  The second goal was another defensive breakdown.  The first and third probably could have been stopped by Hedberg.

    The Devils didn't really do anything to start the third, but about halfway through the third period, the Devils came alive.  Anton Volchenkov went to work and took the puck behind the net (weird...) to set up David Clarkson's slapshot that beat Cam Ward.  Then Clarkson and Volchenkov assisted on Adam Henrique's goal to cut the Carolina lead to 3-2 with about 2:20 to go.  The Devils threatened late, but at Travis Zajac went to the bench, Ilya Kovalchuk sent a pass intended for Adam Henrique at the point, and Sutter tipped it out of the zone and into an empty net. (*Correction: Cam Ward is being credited with the goal.  Sutter never touched it.)  It looked like the Devils were trying to create the perfect play 6-on-5, rather than take shots and try to score on secondary chances.  Again, that's Adam Oates not being smart, I guess.

    This is a frustrating loss.  The Devils are obviously going to be a "bubble" team this season, in terms of making the playoffs.  They'll be in the 6-10 area in the conference by season's end, so they need to win games like these against bad teams, which Carolina is right now.  I think the Devils missed Adam Larsson during the past two games, but that's not an excuse to come out as flat as they did today.  Carolina had the same Christmas break that the Devils did, and the Devils just didn't show up until it was too late.  It was a nice, and honestly, surprising effort at the end of the game to make it close, but the Devils got the result they deserved tonight: a loss.  Hey, I guess they still can't play well when John MacLean is in the building.

    I'm hoping for an effort that's at least closer to a 60-minute effort.

    DECEMBER 23rd, 2011:
    Capitals 3, Devils 4 (Shootout).

    I have to be honest: tonight was a disappointing game.  Since the lockout, Devils/Capitals is one of those games that I’ve circled on the calendar because it always turns out to be a great game.  Tonight was far from a classic.  Neither team played a particularly strong game, it lacked the intensity of typical game between these teams and the arena had a dull atmosphere all night.  Even when the Devils were up 3-0, it just didn’t feel like a good game.  Then they blew another lead, let alone a 3 goal lead, and it made it a frustrating night.  The Devils did salvage the two points by surviving until the shootout and winning in the shootout, because after all, it had been a while since the Devils had played a shootout.

    I thought it was an especially bad night for Patrik Elias.  He must not have fully recovered from his illness, because he couldn’t connect on his passes and he blew some shots.  That’s not the description of a healthy Elias.  I didn’t think Martin Brodeur played well at all, either.  Even though he took a shutout into the third period, he didn’t look strong playing the puck or making routine saves.  The goal posts also bailed him out several times in the second period.  Ryan Carter also played poorly in my opinion.  He turned the puck over a few times and completely missed an off-side play and remained in the offensive zone.  It certainly wasn’t his best game as a Devil.

    I didn’t think any of the lines really stood out.  Although the Kovalchuk-Henrique-Parise trio all registered at least one point in the game, they didn’t look as in sync as the past stretch of eight or so games.  As I suggested, Elias struggled, but I thought Petr Sykora made some poor decisions with the puck at times too.  The Tedenby-Zajac-Clarkson line was solid, but they couldn’t connect either.

    The good things the Devils did so was not allow a short-handed goal.  They even scored a power play goal on Kovalchuk’s snipe.  The thing I don’t understand is that Peter DeBoer and Adam Oates insist on having David Clarkson take face-offs on the power play.  Why?!?!  Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac are on the team (and on the two power play units) and Clarkson is taking draws?  There was one power play tonight in which the Capitals won the draw and kept the Devils stuck in their zone for 15 seconds or so.  It’s time to move Clarkson back to his proper position…outside the face-off circle.

    Another positive tonight was the Devils defense.  I understand that blowing a 3 goal lead is unacceptable, and let’s face it, Brodeur is as much to blame as anyone, but the defense was solid for most of the night.  I thought the Caps were incredibly sloppy for most of the first two periods, and the defensemen weren’t helping the Caps out.  Anton Volchenkov is lucky that his visor saved him of a bad injury when he was hit in the face.  I thought Alexander Urbom played very well, even without the goal.  He and Matt Taormina look pretty good together right now.  It’s also worth noting that a Devils defenseman contributed to all three Devils goals tonight (Kurtis Foster on the first, Urbom on the second and Taormina on the third).  That’s a good sign.

    Anyway, tonight looked like a game where both teams knew they had a two day break to look forward to.  Well, they do now.  I’m obviously happy that the Devils were able to squeak two points out of the night, but this was not a game that anyone should be proud of.  The only thing tonight showed is that Urbom and Taormina deserve to stay in the lineup.  The next two games out of the Christmas break (at Carolina and vs. Buffalo) is a back-to-back situation, so expect Brodeur and Johan Hedberg to each get a start.  In general, I would personally prefer more of Hedberg, because he usually plays better when he plays more.

    Until then, Merry Christmas if you celebrate and enjoy the break if you don’t!

    DECEMBER 21st, 2011:

    We're approaching the mid-way point of the 2011-12 NHL season already, and with the holiday roster freeze, I decided now would be a good time to throw in my opinion of some of the big questions about this Devils team.  They've certainly had their up's and down's, but I'm looking ahead to the rest of the season.

    The Devils are a playoff team this season - FACT.

    The Devils, like many teams, did not have their full healthy roster to start the season, and they were essentially with no "natural" centers at the start of the season.  Once Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson were put on the shelf, Patrik Elias became the team's top center, and they even went as far as trying Zach Parise at center for a while before Adam Henrique emerged as the team's best center.  Now that Zajac is back in the lineup, the Devils can ice three quality lines that all have the ability to score consistently.

    I think Kurtis Foster is going to pay off for the Devils.  He showed his smart decision making with and without the puck in his own end during the his first three games as a Devil, and while he did have a bit of a hiccup against the Rangers last night, I think he'll help more than he'll hurt.  I still think the Devils need to add one more quality shutdown defenseman to legitimize the Devils' blue line.

    The Devils are a good offensive team - FICTION.

    Over the past 10 days or so, the Devils have reached 5 goals in a game three times, which would have been a dream last season or even earlier this season.  They're actually an above average offensive team right now, but to me, they need to prove themselves capable against elite goaltending.  They did manage to score 3 on Tim Thomas, 5 on Carey Price, plus they've owned Cam Ward this season and they've beaten L.A. twice this season, but they only scored one goal on Marc-Andre Fleury as well as Henrik Lundqvist, but they've also had their struggles offensively. 

    I will say that the best of the Devils offensively this season has yet to come.  If Mattias Tedenby can get going whatsoever, the Devils third line will be very solid.  Eventually, I'd guess Dainius Zubrus ends up centering that line.  That means Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique will each either be working with Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise, unless the top line remains intact.

    If the Devils wanted, they could even ice a quality fourth line with Vladimir Zharkov and Nick Palmieri around Ryan Carter, but instead they're playing a pair of wingers who take shots at other players instead of the net.

    Ilya Kovalchuk is playing his best right now as a Devil - FACT.

    I think it's safe to say Ilya Kovalchuk hasn't been the electrifying sniper that he was with Atlanta in his Devils career thus far.  I also think it's safe to say that Ilya has come a long way to become a more complete player and team player than in years past.  Now, for the first time in his Devils career, Ilya looks like he's a part of a dangerous scoring line with Adam Henrique and Zach Parise.  The experiment to right wing failed miserably last season, but I don't think it's because Kovalchuk wasn't comfortable at right wing, I just think he was having a miserable start to last season.

    Last night's loss to the Rangers was the sixth time Kovalchuk took six or more shots on goal in a game this season.  On this date last season, Kovalchuk only had two games where he picked up six or more shots on goal.  Kovalchuk has taken fewer than three goals on goal eight times this season, while at this time last season he had fifteen games where he took fewer than three shots.  As far as point production is concerned, he has picked up 5 goals and 6 assists in 10 games this month, while picking up 3 goals and 5 assists and missing five games last month.  I think he's looked as close to his dominant superstar self recently, just as he did in the second half of last season now.  He doesn't look 'afraid' of the puck, as he did in the early stages of last season.  Like with many players, the best of Kovy as a Devil has yet to come.  I genuinly believe that.  He's made some dramatic adjustments to his game to become a more complete player, and while he still turns the puck over at times, he helps more than he hurts.

    The Devils have sufficient goaltending to make a playoff run - FICTION.

    Let's face it: the Devils don't have the goaltending necessary to knock off teams like Pittsburgh, Boston and the Rangers in a seven game series.  Martin Brodeur has clearly declined this season, although he still shows flashes of brilliance, he can't win a game by himself anymore, and in the playoffs, your goaltender needs to be able to do that.  Johan Hedberg is also a strong, quality goaltender, but he's not someone who's going to take over games either.

    You don't need an elite goaltender to win a Stanley Cup.  Why?  Well, you tell me how many Cups Kipprusoff, Lundqvist, Miller, Luongo and Quick have.  But teams that want to win rounds need a goaltender who can steal a game, and the Devils simply don't have that anymore.  Hopefully they'll address this problem in the off-season.  This is Martin Brodeur's swan song, and if I were management, I'd be looking at options this summer.  Perhaps the Devils should give up on a top prospect, such as Jon Merrill or Mattias Tedenby, and acquire Jonathan Bernier or Cory Schneider, etc.  Then I think it would be fine to re-sign Johan Hedberg for one last season and then it might be a different story next season.

    This is Martin Brodeur's final season in the NHL - FACT.

    As I mentioned above, I believe this will be Martin Brodeur's last call in the NHL.  He's suggested that he wants to leave before he's kicked out, and well, he might get kicked out this summer if he doesn't retire.  There's no denying that he has declined, and although he can still play his position, he needs to go out on top, knowing that he's done everything there is to do for an NHL goaltender.

    For Brodeur's sake, I hope the Devils find a way to tighten up defensively and make one last playoff run with him.  Brodeur is at 99 playoff wins and is tied with Patrick Roy for most playoff shutouts.  Hopefully he can achieve both of those milestones this spring (hopefully he retires this summer with 115 playoff wins).

    Adam Larsson has been a disappointment this season - FICTION.

    I think most people are happy with the signs they're seeing from Adam Larsson, but frustrated with some of his decision making.  I'll say this: he's barely 19 years old and getting Shea Weber-esque minutes.  Up until the recent acquisition of Kurtis Foster, Larsson was in charge of the top power play unit, the top defensive pairing 5-on-5 and he killed penalties.  That's a lot of work for a guy who was playing as an 17-18-year old in Sweden last season.

    Larsson has had some turnover problems, as we know.  I don't think he realized how much different the forecheck is against him in the smaller North American rinks.  In Europe, throwing the puck up the middle was a much less dangerous play than it is here in North America.  He's learning to make the simple play and chip the puck up the boards and use the boards to his advantage.  Although he's been dangled around in the recent games against Dallas and Montreal, he has been very good at shutting players down when they have the puck.  He's been breaking up cross-ice passes and helping his goalies out down low.  He's incredibly smart for a 19-year old defenseman.

    His passing looks substantially better than it was a few weeks ago.  The most prominent example of a Larsson "home run" pass was the pass he made to David Clarkson in Montreal that tied the game there.  He's making smart decisions with the puck as well and is very much involved in the offense when he's on the ice.  Again, he's doing far more than a 19-year old defenseman could possibly be expected to at this point.

    Peter DeBoer is a good NHL head coach - FACT.

    I haven't completely decided whether I like Pete DeBoer, personally, but I will say he is a good coach for the most part.  He'll never win a Jack Adams Trophy as far as I'm concerned, but he gets production out of his top players.  If there's any evidence of that significance, it's that nobody produced for John MacLean, except for Mattias Tedenby.  DeBoer demands a two-way game out of all of his players and holds them responsible.  He hasn't overplayed Martin Brodeur this season, either.  Like with any coach, I haven't been thrilled with all of his decisions and I hate the fact that he's obsessed with playing the fourth line (I also think he's a bit too high on David Clarkson), but he's been good so far.  He seems to be a player's coach, and he seems generally liked by the team from what we, as fans, can see.

    Zach Parise will re-sign with the Devils long-term - FACT.

    Any Devils fan who tells you Parise's contract situation isn't on their mind is downright lying.  It's the most significant decision Lou Lamoriello and the Devils have to make in the coming months.  To me, there really is no 'decision' to be made: the Devils are playoff-bound this season barring a collapse and Parise must remain a Devil for life.  The Devils went out and named him the team's captain this fall because they want to reiterate their confidence in him as a franchise player.  He has proven over the past few weeks that he is still an elite offensive player as well, and nobody can ever question Parise's work ethic.

    The only thing in the way of re-signing Parise in New Jersey is the ownership situation.  Jeff Vanderbeek needs to find a partner to invest in the team and buy a large stake in the team before April.  If he can't, then the team is in trouble.  On January 1st, the Devils, per the league's collective bargaining agreement, will be allowed to negotiate a new contract and hopefully come to an agreement right away.  I personally believe the Devils were close to signing Parise to a long-term extension in the summer.  If they weren't, Parise would have signed his one-year deal before July.  I can't imagine Parise without the Devils or the Devils without Parise, honestly, and I don't want to imagine either of those senarios.

    The Devils can win a Stanley Cup in the next 3-5 years* - FACT.

    (*Note: I said can, not necessarily that they will.)

    I think the Devils finally have a deep enough and talented enough roster to make a run at the team's fourth Stanley Cup Championship in the near future.  They never replaced the losses of Stevens, Niedermayer, Rafalski and Gomez, but since then, they've drafted some talented forwards that have given the Devils some offensive firepower.  The defense is still not what he needs to be, but it's significantly better than it was two seasons ago.  Adam Larsson is the backbone of the Devils' defense going forward.  I think he'll honestly be close to Norris-quality in the next three years or so.  Behind him, the Devils still need some help.  Henrik Tallinder is in the books for two more seasons and Anton Volchenkov has four more years after this season.  I think Mark Fayne and Matt Taormina could be a third pairing.  I wouldn't give up on Alexander Urbom either.  The other guy I've heard good things about is Eric Gelinas.  The Devils have the size on the blue line, and hopefully there's enough talent.

    The biggest wild card is if the Devils can get the good enough goaltending.  There is no future for Martin Brodeur or Johan Hedberg beyond this season (Hedberg could back up next season, but not beyond that).  I've offered my opinion about what the Devils could/should do moving forward.  I do think there is a core strong enough to win a Cup sooner than some people might think in New Jersey.

    DECEMBER 20th, 2011:
    Rangers 4, Devils 1.

    If hockey was a 30 minute game, the Devils would have been in great shape tonight.  However, once the game crossed the halfway point, the Devils slowed down and started making awful decisions with the puck.  They needed to get to more secondary scoring chances.  After Travis Zajac's goal, they didn't get to secondary chances.  It was a sloppy effort, especially because they could have, and should have, buried the Rangers when they were down 1-0 and playing awful.  The Devils should have exploited the Rangers' weak defense and sloppy play, but they didn't.

    Good teams find ways to win, and tonight should have been a win.  Even when the Rangers took a 2-1 lead, the Devils have plenty of time to get back into the game, but the power play let them down again.  They allowed yet another shorthanded goal, and that was what killed the Devils again tonight.  It's nice to be the team that scores shorthanded goals, and the Devils certainly have their fair share, but they need to stop being so nonchalant on the power play.  They're consistently being outworked when they go on the power play, and that isn't good enough.

    Kurtis Foster got exposed a bit tonight.  In his first three games as a Devil, he made smart decisions with and without the puck, but he (and to be fair, Zach Parise too) blew their assignments on the 1-1 goal.  From the second period on (shots were 12-4 Devils in the first period), the Rangers seemed to create strong scoring chances every shift, and it wore the Devils defense out.  The Rangers hit about a million goal posts in the second period, so the Devils got some lucky breaks, but they couldn't create any offense once the game was tied.

    Adam Larsson played a very strong game tonight.  Except for one shift, when he threw the puck into traffic along the boards instead of turning around, he was smart all over the ice.  He's learned the hard way that you don't throw the puck up the middle of the ice and try to be Superman.  His passing and vision on the ice is also dramatically better than it was a few weeks ago.  He still needs to keep his head up and not get knocked around by the opposition.  Larsson now gets a while off as he goes to Sweden for his grandmother's funeral (he's out the next 2-3 games).  That's about the same advice I've give Mattias Tedenby if I was a coach.  He needs to stop pretending he's Dion Phaneuf and throw his body around, because it doesn't take much to hit Tedenby.

    I have no complaints about Patrik Elias tonight.  He looked great from the press box.

    One final complaint: why is Peter DeBoer obsessed with the fourth line?  They're terrible; don't play them.  It's really that simple.  They kill the Devils' momentum and create long, bad defensive shifts.  The defense also made things miserable for themselves, too.  The Rangers forechecked aggressively, and the Devils had no answer for it.

    So I guess tonight is a game that you throw out and pretend it never happened.  It sucks to lose to the Rangers, especially at home.  I was shocked at the stupidity of Rangers fans tonight, although I guess I should expect it.  They kept chanting "your team's bankrupt" and "your season's over."  The Devils didn't give up at this time last year, they're certainly not going away this season.  I am obviously biased, and there are certainly stupid Devils fans as well, but Ranger fans are simply idiotic (there are some bright ones, of course).  Seriously, get creative and most importantly, win a Stanley Cup or none of your arguments are valid.

    The Devils better start showing up for big games.  Tonight is not going to be fun to watch on HBO.

    DECEMBER 17th, 2011:
    Devils 5, Canadiens 3.

    After an emotional and exciting celebration and hockey game last night, it would have been easy for the Devils to get off to a slow start tonight.  It would have been easy for them to take a deep breathe tonight and let this game slip away.  It would have been easy to not play with the intensity and emotion that they did last night.  It also would have been easy for Montreal to come out fired up to play for their new coach.  Well, this is not an easy game and none of the above occured tonight.  The Devils must be turning heads, as they've won 6 of 7, the most recently being a strong 5-3 win at the Bell Centre.  The Devils had the game's first seven shots, scored two power play goals (not to mention one goal that came as their first power play expired) and played another very strong game.  Yeah, it was close to another 60-minute effort.

    Petr Sykora opened the scoring on a goal where the puck bounced off of Carey Price, then P.K. Subban and off Price again and into the net.  It wasn't a highlight reel goal, but it counts.  As Doc Emrick would say, they don't ask how, they ask how many.  They played a good first period, and outshot Montreal, 12-6 in the opening period.  The second period was extremely wide open.  There were five combined goals, three of which were scored by the Habs.  The Devils goals in the period were by Patrik Elias, his 347th, which tied John MacLean for the most goals in Devils history, on a one-timed snipe and David Clarkson, who was fed beautifully by Adam Larsson up the ice.  Larsson looks great moving the puck.  He played a strong defensive game, too, except he did get dangled around again.

    Now, the first two Habs goals were unfortunate in many ways.  The first was on a 5-on-3.  Martin Brodeur was screened, so you can't blame him for that one.  The second goal came as Larsson was caught high in the slot, and it looked like his stick broke.  Chris Campoli blasted it by Brodeur.  Again, an unfortunate turnover resulted in the goal.  The third goal was a little softer.  Still, Clarkson's tying goal late in the 2nd saved the momentum for the Devils, and put them into a good position in the third period, because the Habs are an awful third period team.

    The third period was, well, awful for the Habs, outside of the final two minutes, where they generated some strong chances and had four shots on goal.  But, the big story was a sweet 2-on-0 play between Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias off of a turnover by the Canadiens.  As you probably know, Elias' second goal moved him ahead of John MacLean, with 348 goals, and the most ever by a Devil.  He's hopefully on his way to 1,000 points.  I think it'll take at least one more Stanley Cup before he could have a legitimate chance at the Hall of Fame.  I think health and the lockout probably cost him a good chance to pad his statistics to put him in the Hall of Fame category, but #26 will be retired in New Jersey for sure.  To cap off the night, the Devils scored a second power play goal, as Kurtis Foster and Ilya Kovalchuk both picked up their second assists of the game, and Dainius Zubrus scored.  The only disappointment was Kovalchuk missing the empty net, I guess.

    There were two scares for the Devils: Erik Cole knocked Adam Larsson in the head, forcing him to the "quiet room."  Larsson was fine, and I definitely recognize that Larsson's head was down, but it was a dangerous hit, and I hope/think Cole will sit for two or three games.  Zach Parise, who actually didn't record a point tonight, was hit in the face with a puck, but he was also luckily alright.

    They say you shouldn't get too excited at your highest of highs, but the Devils are playing very well right now.  The effort they put forth on the second end of a back-to-back in Montreal was very impressive.  Now, they have another big test on Tuesday against a team I'm not particularly fond of: the New York Rangers.  For what it's worth, the HBO 24/7 cameras will be in New Jersey, so it shouldn't be hard for both teams to show up and play extremely hard.  I really hope the Devils can get to Lundqvist the way they've gotten to a lot of goaltenders recently.  I think scoring 5 on Price tonight is more impressive than the 6 they put up last night.  Let's hope there's another big number on Lundqvist's goals against next Tuesday.

    DECEMBER 16th, 2011 (2nd post):
    Stars 3, Devils 6.

    What a night it was for the Devils on Scott Niedermayer Night.  From Doc Emrick returning to New Jersey to an energetic crowd to honoring one of the greatest Devils of all-time to, of course, the game: everyone did their part to make tonight a memorable one.

    As for the game itself, this game is right up there with the 3-0 win in Los Angeles as one of the best games of the season.  I'll say this: it was the most entertaining game of the season.  They did allow the Dallas Stars a lot of offensive chances and plenty of shots, 36 in total, and Adam Larsson got undressed early on, but those are the extent of the complaints I have with the game tonight.  The Devils didn't show any slow start after a ceremony, as many home teams do.  They played awesome tonight, and it takes a lot for me to say that.  Some will say that the Stars goalie Bachman was tired and the team was fatigued, and that may be true, but the Devils have been busy lately too.  Let's give them the credit they deserve tonight.

    I thought Dallas got a few cheap shots in this game.  I believe it was the pesky Steve Ott that kneed Anton Volchenkov early on.  Then Zach Parise got slapped in the face with a stick when the Devils went on a power play.  They're a physical Dallas team, but I think they were a bit dirty tonight.  The Devils weren't as physical as they have been of late, but they were much better with their offensive creativity.

    The sign of a good Devils game is when they create offensive chances in different kinds of ways.  When they're pressing or struggling, they rely heavily on low-percentage point shots and bad angle shots, and it makes the opposing goaltenders have great numbers.  That was not the case tonight.  The Devils scored all kinds of goals: a goal from, well, a sharp angle, a short-handed goal off the rush, a snipe off the rush, a re-direction, a rebound and a tic-tac-toe passing play.

    Obviously Zach Parise stepped up on a night when another great Devil was honored.  He scored a goal, had a game-high six shots and picked up three assists.  Other than that one shift, Adam Larsson had a solid game, picking up two assists for what I believe is his first career multi-point game.  Travis Zajac looked pretty good in his return to the lineup.  He had three shots on goal, two of which were strong chances, although he did finish with a -2 rating (+/- means little-nothing for forwards anyway).  I think the Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk line was great, of course, but Tedenby-Zajac-Clarkson played well.  Mattias Tedenby finally got some ice time: about 12 and a half minutes.  Even Cam Janssen played well.  He had two shots on goal and picked up an assist!

    The unsung hero tonight were the Devils defense.  Larsson is always scrutinized, but in the absence of Henrik Tallinder, the defense stepped up (not that stepping up from Tallinder is that difficult...).  Anton Volchenkov, Alexander Urbom and of course, Bryce Salvador played very well in shutdown roles tonight.  Mark Fayne was solid as well, and Kurtis Foster has been impressive.  I didn't know what to expect from Foster defensively, but he's been very smart so far.  I really like the way the team is playing lately.  The top line is scoring at a great pace, they're settling down defensively and getting the necessary goaltending.  Obviously, the penalty kill has been awesome all season.  I guess it's too much to ask to have a good power play too, huh?

    Tomorrow night will be another test in Montreal, as the Devils fell to the Habs last Saturday.  Let's hope they find the energy they had tonight.

    DECEMBER 16th, 2011 - Scott Niedermayer Night

    Just a few thoughts in the hours before Scott Niedermayer's jersey retirement ceremony:

    • I'm still a little unsure whether this is a good idea to retire #27 before #30 and #26 go up, but Nieds is undoubtably a Devils legend and he does deserve this great honor.
    • Kudos to Doc Emrick for coming back for this event.  I couldn't have imagined a better voice to host the ceremony tonight.
    • I have been secretly hoping they announce Niedermayer has signed to play with the Devils.  Lou Lamoriello joked about that earlier.  Nieds would be the best defenseman on the team, even today.
    • This is a huge event for the Devils this year.  As much as I think Nieds does deserve this honor, I think the business of having this event was the primary push for doing it this season.  The Devils really need a sellout and need to sell memorabilia from tonight.
    • I'm glad Scott is back and involved with the Devils organization.  I believe he wanted to be traded back to New Jersey to end his career.
    Now, there is a game to be played following the ceremony.  It's against Richard Bachman and the Dallas Stars.  Bachman, like Minnesota's Matt Hackett, has been a great goaltender that has come out of nowhere.  He'll be a tough task for the Devils tonight.  The Devils have been playing much better, winning four out of their last five games overall.  They get Anton Volchenkov back from a minor hand injury, Henrik Tallinder and David Clarkson back from minor incidents and of course, Travis Zajac will make his season debut tonight.  He'll likely start on the fourth line with Eric Boulton and Clarkson, as well as special teams.  Martin Brodeur will have the night off, which I guess means he'd rather play in Montreal tomorrow.

    One final note: I'd assume Clarkson pushes Mattias Tedenby back to the fourth line tonight, while Eric Boulton plays on the third line.  Tim Sestito is out tonight, which is smart, but keeping Nick Palmieri and Vladimir Zharkov in the minors while Boulton and Cam Janssen have NHL jobs is a complete joke.  Boulton shouldn't be in the lineup, let alone playing on the third line ahead of former first round draft pick Mattias Tedenby.  That's been my one major complaint with Peter DeBoer this season.

    Other than that, I'm looking forward to tonight!

    DECEMBER 13th, 2011
    Devils 3, Panthers 2 (Shootout)
    Tonight was another tremendous effort on the road this season.  It wasn't the first time the Devils overcame a 2-goal deficit to win a game in a shootout on the road this season.  In fact, it wasn't the second...or third time either.  It was the fourth two-goal comeback on the road this season, and each ended with the Devils winning in a shootout.  Ilya Kovalchuk scored a shootout goal in each of them.
    I thought tonight was a much more complete effort than many of the previous games.  Tonight was a very entertaining game and a game that I thought both teams showed up for.  This wasn't an easy game for the Devils, because the Panthers are a good team, and they got slammed on Sunday, so they were going to come out strong tonight.  The Devils also played a tough game last night, and they were able to put forth another strong effort tonight.
    The first period wasn't great, but the Devils still had 13 shots on goal, many of which were solid saves by Jose Theodore.  The second didn't start well, as Adam Larsson and Henrik Tallinder each turned the puck over and Kris Versteeg took advantage for Florida both times.  I will say this in defense of Larsson on the first goal: the fourth line was on the ice and they had a terrible shift that ultimately led to the goal against.  The second goal was a Tallinder cough-up, and Versteeg beat Brodeur on a short-handed breakaway.  Yep, that's 9 short-handed goals against for New Jersey.  The power play was okay, I suppose.  Kurtis Foster will eventually help it once he practices with them.
    It wasn't quite a minute after Versteeg's second goal that Ilya Kovalchuk fed Zach Parise, but got Patrik Elias, who scored his 10th goal of the season.  The Devils kept pressing, and ended up outshooting Florida, 16-6 in the period.  The third period featured more dominance by the Devils, including Zach Parise's goal off of the wide shot by Tallinder.  Parise promptly tied Elias for the team lead in goals with his 10th.  I guess that makes up for him not getting an assist on the Elias goal.  Ilya Kovalchuk assisted on both of them.  The best chances of the period came inside of 10 seconds remaining in the 3rd period, but Petr Sykora somehow missed what looked to be a point-blank chance to beat Theodore and win in regulation.  Kovalchuk and Elias scored in the shootout, and even though Parise's five-hole shot was stopped, Martin Brodeur, who was very strong tonight, stopped Tomas Fleichmann and Kris Versteeg.
    So, the Devils improve to 16-13-1 and are back in the Top 8 for the time being.  There are a few things that really bothered me about the game tonight.  First of all, the Devils allowed another short-handed goal.  Tallinder coughed the puck up at center ice at the worst time: when Kris Versteeg stripped him of the puck and went in on Brodeur.  The other thing that bothered me is that Pete DeBoer chose Eric Boulton to play with Ryan Carter and David Clarkson over Mattias Tedenby.  I don't care if Tedenby isn't great defensively, Boulton helps that third line in no way, shape or form.  DeBoer may as well bench Tedenby and have Nick Palmieri play in his place.  Tedenby played with guys I hesitate to call hockey players: Tim Sestito and Cam Janssen.  That annoys the hell out of me.  Boulton, who averages about 6:30 of ice-time over his 561-game NHL career, played 11:23 tonight, while Tedenby played just 7:09.  That's simply unacceptable.  If that's what Tedenby's role is, please just send him to Albany so he can play.
    Also worthy of note: Scott Niedermayer Night is obviously Friday and the Devils play in Montreal Saturday.  It will be interesting to see which goalies play which game.  I'd guess Brodeur wants to play both, but he shouldn't and he won't.  I'll guess Brodeur starts Friday and Johan Hedberg starts in Montreal.  I'd also guess Travis Zajac will play and he'll start with Clarkson and...well, hopefully not Boulton.  Kurtis Foster played well tonight.  He had four shots on goal and looked smart in his own end. 
    The shock of the night was when the two top lines had a mini-line brawl.  Kovalchuk and Parise got roughing minors and Kovalchuk actually finished the game with a season-high six hits.  I'll say this flat-out: Kovalchuk is a team player and cares about his teammates.  I've been very impressed with his overall play lately.

    DECEMBER 12th, 2011:
    Devils 5, Lightning 4.

    Today was a busy day in the Devils world.  Let's start with the game at hand and then get to the immediate future of the roster.  Honestly, I was not overwhelmed by the Devils' overall game tonight.  They were badly outshot and outplayed for a substantial part of it.  They got off to a phenomenal start, but then the Lightning started to actually skate and took over the game for much of it.  Basically, the Devils took advantage of the offensive chances they generated.  They were strong with the puck, although only 5-on-5 and short-handed.  Dwayne Roloson also seemed to help the Devils out tonight.  At least two of the three goals he allowed were what I would consider soft.

    Bryce Salvador, of all people, and his shot seemed to hand-cuff Roloson less than 30 seconds into the game, and Petr Sykora backhanded the loose puck into the empty net for a 1-0 lead.  Minutes later, at the end of a power play, Dainius Zubrus' deflection of Matt Taormina's point wrister made it 2-0.  Tampa Bay seemed to take the game over after that, and they scored twice to tie the game before the first period expired.  Johan Hedberg didn't play his best game tonight, and I thought the Devils defense was actually okay for the most part.  Adam Larsson took a few undisciplined penalties (Matt Taormina also took one stupid one) and two of the Tampa Bay goals followed Patrik Elias falls.

    Roloson allowed another soft goal, this time to Zach Parise, to open the second period.  Parise fed Ilya Kovalchuk on a clean 2-on-0 for a 4-2 lead, and then Parise fed Adam Henrique short-handed to make it 5-2.  Henrique's goal, his third point of the night (like Parise), turned out to be the game winner.  Still, the Lightning kept pressing, and Steven Stamkos scored a pair of goals within the final ten minutes of the third period, but it wasn't enough.  Parise fell into the boards hard in the third, but turned out to be okay.

    In summary, the Devils were opportunistic tonight, but I don't think it was their best effort.  Obviously, any time the Devils win a game and score five goals in the process, you can't really complain, but there are still a lot of things they need to work on.  And then the power play needs to improve, too.  Henrique was absolutely amazing again tonight.  His goal and two assists give him 23 points on the season (in 26 games), and he trails only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins amongst rookies this season.

    Now, the power play is going to get a pair of boosts this week.  First of all, in case you haven't heard, Mark Fraser, Rod Pelley and a 2012 7th round draft pick have been traded to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defenseman Kurtis Foster and goaltending prospect Timo Pielmeier, who for your amusement, has done something Martin Brodeur also did.  I like the trade.  Let's be honest: Fraser and Pelley aren't serviceable to the Devils right now, and the odds of a 7th round pick turning into anything are slim, so the chance taken on the often-injured Foster seems worth it.  Foster has a great shot and can run the power play.  Now Ilya Kovalchuk can move around and Mark Fayne doesn't have to play the power play.  I'd guess Adam Larsson and Matt Taormina will both play the power play, meaning they won't always ice four forwards.  Foster is only going to help the Devils on the power play.  The other piece that is getting close to a return is Travis Zajac.  Hopefully, he'll play Friday night against Dallas for Scott Niedermayer Night.  Parise is heating up as it is; Travis Zajac will only help.

    The Devils need to come out with a strong performance tomorrow night in Miami.  They'll need to play much better than their last trip to BankAtlantic Center, when they let a 3-0 lead become a 4-3 regulation loss.  I'd expect a better 60-minute effort.  I hope.  I'd also bet Foster will play tomorrow.

    DECEMBER 10th, 2011:
    Canadiens 2, Devils 1

    I wish there was a reason for the inconsistency of the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils, but I can't seem to find one.  It's certainly evident, as I can't seem to remember a well played game by the Devils for 60 minutes this season (outside of the 3-0 win in Los Angeles).  Today was no different.  Although the Devils seemed to do whatever they wanted to do early, and Montreal allowed them to, the game slipped away.  After a strong first period that featured 13 Devils shots on Carey Price and an overall strong period, the Devils went into hibernation.  The second period was a stinker.  Even after Montreal scored their power play goal (the first 5-on-4 goal the Devils have allowed at home this season), the Devils couldn't generate anything offensively.  The Habs certainly seemed content to sit back and hold the lead.  The third period was more of the same.  The Devils fell asleep in front of Martin Brodeur, who had a decent game overall in the limited work he had, and Mark Fayne apparently redirected the puck in for a 2-0 Canadiens lead.

    Then, following Ilya Kovalchuk's dump-in that broke a glass support, the Devils seemed to wake up.  Maybe they thought today was a 4 PM game or something.  They started to find ways to beat the Habs' defensive approach.  They won races to pucks in the corner and generated chances everywhere.  Nick Palmieri's goal cut the deficit to 2-1, and the Devils looked like they would make a strong effort to tie the game, which they did.  Late in the game on the power play, they created a series of chances that resulted in a mad scramble in front of the net.  Somehow, the puck never beat Price, but the Devils were awarded a penalty shot after Habs' D-man Josh Gorges covered the puck with his hand in the crease.  Naturally, Peter DeBoer chose Zach Parise to take the penalty shot, but Parise couldn't get much of his backhander on net, and Price made an easy save with under 50 seconds to go in the third period.  The Devils kept pressing, but ran out of time and lost, 2-1.

    This was a major letdown after the inspired performance in the Ottawa game.  The Devils never gave up today, but they did not play well enough to win, obviously.  Call-ups Alex Urbom and Matt Taormina weren't stand-outs by any means today.  I thought Mark Fayne and Adam Larsson were decent, and Henrik Tallinder even had a pretty nice rush in the first period that almost resulted in an early goal.  Of the forwards, nobody had a terribly strong game.  Dainius Zubrus may have been the Devils' best all-around forward today, and the Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk line created some chances, although that line was broken up at times.  Mattias Tedenby did have an assist, but also took a pair of penalties.  They're going to have to play smarter in their own end and play a more complete game for 60 minutes (perhaps 65 if it goes to overtime) to beat Tampa Bay on Monday night. 

    This was a very disappointing loss to an awful Montreal team.  Hell, the Devils made Tomas Kaberle look good today.  Ugh...

    DECEMBER 8th, 2011:
    Senators 4, Devils 5 (SO)

    Well, this certainly wasn't a textbook hockey game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a huge win for the Devils, nonetheless.  It didn't start well, and it didn't end well in regulation, but the Devils battled tonight.  They were not on their A-game for most of the game, but they truly faught to get this win.  This is a win they should be extremely proud of.  Yes, Ottawa did blow a lead the previous night, but they came into this game with the best +/- in the third period, and the Devils were not amused, scoring three goals in the third.

    The first 40 minutes were absolutely atrocious.  Martin Brodeur allowed 2 goals in the 1st period (he was pulled: 2 goals on 9 shots), some awful officiating in the 2nd (cancelled a goal by Petr Sykora and a series of penalties) and undisciplined play by the Devils resulted in their first power play goal surrendered at home all season (a 5-on-3 goal), after killing their first 40 penalty kills at home.  Through 11 home games, they haven't allowed a 5-on-4 power play goal this season at home.  But fittingly, it was their penalty kill that got them back in the game.  Down 3-0 late in the 2nd period, Adam Henrique fed Zach Parise short-handed, and his bad-angle one-timed slapshot beat Alex Auld to cut the deficit to 3-1.  That's Parise's first career slapshot goal.*  (*Not a fact.)

    Entering the 3rd period, the Devils still had little momentum going, as despite the short-handed goal in the 2nd, they didn't really generate any offense consistently.  The third period was wide open, as the Devils outshot Ottawa, 12-11.  The key for the Devils was making the most of scoring chances.  While Ottawa went on another power play early in the 3rd period, Patrik Elias did a great job of drawing the Sens players to him, and then fed Dainius Zubrus for a partial breakaway and he sniped it past Auld.  That made it 3-2 with plenty of time to tie it.  About six and a half minutes later, David Clarkson fired one on goal and the rebound hit Mattias Tedenby's jersey and deflected in.  How's that for Tedenby's first of the season?  Shockingly, the play was reviewed and was HELD AS A GOAL!!!  Earlier in the game, Tedenby took a holding penalty on Sergei Gonchar, and Petr Sykora scored shortly after, but that was wiped out, so it wasn't all good news from the official scorers.  37 seconds after Tedenby's goal, Parise, Henrique and Kovalchuk went tic-tac-toe, and Kovy scored his 4th in the last 5 games.

    The Devils ended up getting a pair of power plays after Kovalchuk's goal and looked very strong on those power plays, but they couldn't bury Ottawa.  They actually got another power play late in the 3rd, but Ottawa pulled Auld and Jesse Winchester tied it with under 5 seconds remaining as Johan Hedberg (who played the final 45 minutes and the shootout).  The Devils defense were simply running around and scrambling, as they were for most of the game.  Now, the reason the Sens were short-handed is because after Ryan Carter and Milan Michalek (who scored again tonight...) got roughing minors, Ottawa pulled Auld and were technically up 5-on-4, but Erik Karlsson tripped Patrik Elias as he was aiming for the empty net goal.  It was a good penalty for Karlsson to take, but it gave the Devils a 4-on-3 advantage.  Ottawa's tying goal was technically short-handed, although it came 4-on-4.

    That made overtime quite interesting, because as Carter and Michalek's penalties expired, the Devils actually had a brief 5-on-4 power play in overtime.  Then Karlsson came out and it was 5-on-5 in overtime.  Since there was no whistle for about three full minutes, the teams played 5-on-5 in overtime.  They finished the overtime 4-on-4 and then went to a shootout.  Late in overtime, Ilya Kovalchuk got mixed up with some Ottawa players and nearly took a penalty, but shot first in the shootout and for the first time all season, did not score (he was 4-for-4).  Johan Hedberg came way out and poke-checked Michalek.  Parise fooled Auld and shot the puck 5-hole, but Jason Spezza did the same on Hedberg.  Then, Patrik Elias roofed one on Auld, but Daniel Alfredsson tied it back up.  Adam Henrique (who had 2 assists on Parise and Kovalchuk's goals) then deked a backhander by Auld, and Hedberg seeled it by stopping the young Sens defenseman David Rundblad, and the Devils won, 5-4 in a shootout.

    Of course you'd take the 2 points in a game where the Devils trailed 3-0 late in the 2nd period, but the Devils need to find a way to tighten up defensively.  It seems that they aren't comfortable when a defenseman pinches in and then they make poor decisions with the puck in the defensive zone.  Now, Andy Greene is going to miss a month with a broken toe, so the Devils will likely call up a defenseman.  I'd guess Alexander Urbom will be re-called, since he's more of a shutdown defenseman, but Eric Gelinas and Matt Taormina are other candidates.  I think a fresh face will do the Devils well and hopefully make the other D-men work hard to keep a spot in the lineup.  Let's hope the Devils can build on this Saturday afternoon in Montreal, because this was a really significant victory.

    *EDIT: Pete DeBoer says a defenseman will be called up from Albany tomorrow.

    DECEMBER 6th, 2011:
    Devils 3, Leafs 2 (OT)
    Whew.  The Devils are back on the 'left side.'  I thought it was a decent game by the Devils.  For the most part, the Devils kept the Leafs' top line in check.  They had their chances, but it was a better defensive effort than the last time these two teams met and Joffrey Lupul recorded a hat trick in the second period alone.  On the flip side, it is still a work in progress.  The Devils are showing some good signs, but they have to keep improving.

    About three minutes into the game, the Devils were awarded the game's first power play (there were some questionable calls on both sides tonight).  It was probably the Devils' best power play of the season.  They controlled the puck, moved it well and created some great chances, the first of which was nearly highlighted by a sweet tic-tac-toe play where James Reimer was forced to rob David Clarkson's shot from the slot.  At the end of the penalty, Petr Sykora sent a perfect cross-ice pass into Ilya Kovalchuk's wheel house and Kovy buried it.  That's his third goal in four games and a point in each of his last five games.  For what it's worth, that was also the third straight game that Kovy (and Adam Henrique) had a point in the first period. 

    But the Devils power play wasn't done yet!  They made it 2-0 on a nice play by Elias, Parise and finished by Clarkson.  Parise faught out Dion Phaneuf, drawing Phaneuf to him, which left Clarkson wide open in front of Reimer, and Clarkson's patience gave him an empty net.  That was the first nine minutes.  The Devils dominated the first period (they were +8 in the Corsi department) and led 2-0 after one.  As good of a first period as they played, let's be fair: the Leafs had a tough game in New York the night before and they were sloppy in the first.

    The second started out pretty well too.  After a sloppy shift to start the second period and the Devils third power play, Parise hit the post and Patrik Elias couldn't bury the rebound.  That seemed to allow Toronto back into the game.  Martin Brodeur made some tremendous saves, probably highlighted by a pair of stops on Phil Kessel.  Kessel has been robbed a bunch of times by Brodeur this season alone.  He later popped one off his skate and in, although he didn't realize it at the time.  I'd say the Kessel goal was similar to the Parise goal that was waved off late in the Islanders game.  Kessel's goal should have counted, but so should Parise's.

    The Leafs tied it early in the third, and after a pretty bad period by the Devils in the second, they improved a bit in the third.  Toronto still controlled much of the game after the Devils dominated the first.  The bottom line is that the Devils let another lead slip away.  They managed to get to overtime (no thanks to Elias, who was bailed out by his penalty kill after he took a stupid slashing penalty late in the 3rd), where Dainius Zubrus fed Clarkson for his second of the game and won it, 3-2 for the Devils.  Again, this was a good effort, but there's certainly work to be done.

    Just some final thoughts: I thought Mattias Tedenby looked pretty good with Elias and Petr Sykora early on, but Tedenby finished with just 11:30 of ice time.  The Devils were smarter in this game, as in they weren't as reckless with turnovers as they were in the past few games.  I'd say they played about as well as they did in Minnesota and Winnipeg, but they got the job done tonight.  We'll see how they play at home against Ottawa on Thursday.  If I had to guess, I'd say Johan Hedberg starts Thursday and Brodeur faces Montreal on Saturday afternoon, but maybe Brodeur starts both games...who knows.

    DECEMBER 5th, 2011:

    I figured I'd take the quiet off day to write about what I'd like to see with the Devils in the immediate future.  Please realize that this is my opinion and I am not trying to imply that my opinion is worth more than anyone else's.

    First of all, Peter DeBoer made some interesting line changes in practice today that I think are worth mentioning.  The Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk line has not changed at all, which is probably the right decision at this point, considering that line has been the Devils' only consistent offensive line 5-on-5 during the past few games.  I do, however, believe that line must terminate eventually, because Parise has an uncharacteristically bad -10 +/- rating, while Kovalchuk's is even worse.  I don't put much stock into +/- rating for forwards, but when it's that extreme, it is valid and it's a lot easier to explain than Corsi ratings.  Parise, remember, usually has one of the best +/- ratings in the league and Kovalchuk was a +9 in 2009-10 (the year was traded to New Jersey).

    The second line is where the changes begin.  Petr Sykora moves to the right of Patrik Elias, while Mattias Tedenby joins them on the left wing.  To me, this is Tedenby's last test to see if he can start producing and playing well consistently, or he needs to go back to Albany.  Tedenby needs something to gain confidence for himself.  He's put up just three assists this season, and no points in his last 16 games.  I know he doesn't get the ice time some people feel he deserves, regardless of his defensive play, but he can't be going 16 games without a point.  After all, this is a player who draws comparison to Martin St. Louis, and in my opinion, could translate to 30 goals and upwards of 65 points in a season.  Tedenby is an extremely fast skater who is incredibly dangerous with the puck.  He's got great hands and stick-handling ability and he works very well along the boards.  He needs to turn that into offense, and he'll probably get his best chance to show those skills now that he's on a line with the Devils' leading scorer, Patrik Elias and winger Petr Sykora.  Mattias, here's your chance; it's all on you now.

    Tedenby's replacement on the third line is Dainius Zubrus, who although he hasn't put up points as he was earlier in the season, is the Devils' best forward this season, behind Elias and Adam Henrique.  Zubrus, a power forward, joins Ryan Carter and David Clarkson.  That's a solid third line.  It's not really a "checking line," and it won't be paired against the opposition's top line regularly, but it will be a hard-working line that will hope to control the puck.  The fourth line has Eric Boulton, Tim Sestito, Rod Pelley and recently called up Nick Palmieri on it.  Cam Janssen is day-to-day after being hit in the chest in Winnipeg.  My guess would be that should Tedenby continue to struggle, he'll be sent to Albany and Palmieri can play on the third line.  Also worthy of note: Travis Zajac will likely be practicing within days, so he'll certainly help the depth of the Devils forwards.

    Now quickly, Henrik Tallinder, Bryce Salvador and Mark Fayne are struggling.  By my count, Mark Fraser has played pretty well when he's been given the chance.  Let's call up either Alexander Urbom or Matt Taormina and relieve some of the Devils' defensemen who are struggling.  There is no need to wear guys out who are struggling and cost the team.  Taormina could easily take Fayne's spot on the power play.  Urbom can be paired with a shutdown defenseman and Fraser is as physical as any Devils' defenseman right now.  Fresh faces can only help right now, especially in the midst of a losing streak.  As I keep saying, the time to make minor changes is now, not three weeks from now when the Devils have fallen out of the playoff race.

    DECEMBER 3rd, 2011: Devils 2, Jets 4.  De ja vu all over again.

    I'll be honest: this isn't shocking anymore.  The Devils outplayed another opponent and lost another game.  Last night, they lost to the best team in the NHL, the Minnesota Wild.  Tonight, they found another way to lose, and they lost to a mediocre team in the Winnipeg Jets.  It was a well-played game by the Devils for the most part, but that simply isn't enough.  "Most part" is going to have to become 60-minute effort.

    The Devils caught a bad break early as the Toronto War Room somehow decided that Evander Kane's deflection was under the crossbar.  I don't think the video evidence was enough to overturn the on-ice call of "no-goal," but we all know (or at least think we do) the War Room's history with the Devils.  Still, the Devils responded to Winnipeg's tally with the Henrique line's excellent rush that turned into Henrique's game-tying goal.  The goal was a sweet shot by Henrique.

    After a fairly even first period, the Devils dominated the second period.  The box score said twelve shots on goal, but the Devils truly generated several quality chances during the period.  Ondrej Pavelec made save after save to keep the Jets in the game.  All of the lines kept creating offensive chances.  Even the power play looked pretty good early.  Ironically, Patrik Elias' 5-on-3 goal was probably the lowest percentage shot the Devils took on the power play during the whole game.  Shortly after that goal, Johan Hedberg had another adventure with the puck behind his own net with the Devils still up a man.  Ilya Kovalchuk couldn't settle the puck down and Alexander Burmistrov tied the game.  Yes, that's now 7 short-handed goals allowed this season.

    In the third, the Devils kept the pressure on for the most part, but they couldn't produce anything.  The Devils caught another tough break when the puck trickled across the goal line and Evander Kane seemed to slide down and propel the puck into the net off his skate, however there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the call that it was a goal.  Yeah, we hear you Toronto...  At that point, the Devils couldn't come up with a late comeback and they drop their fourth game in a row.

    Good teams find ways to win.  Bad teams find ways to lose.  At 12-12-1, the season is certainly not over for the Devils, but the time to do something is now.  The Devils are painfully sloppy defensively right now.  Why not call up Alexander Urbom or Eric Gelinas?  Why not even call up Matt Taormina to take some of the pressure off Adam Larsson and find a replacement for the offensively inept Mark Fayne on the power play?  While they're at it, send Mattias Tedenby to Albany so he can figure his game out.  Hell, that sure worked well for Adam Henrique, didn't it?  There's no sense in keeping guys in the lineup when they're struggling badly since it costs the team if they don't need to.  If you look back at recent years, the Devils thrive on giving young players a chance.  Let's bring up some new faces to give the team a lift on the ice and in the locker room.

    Final note: fire Adam Oates.  Yes, the power play got a lucky goal tonight, but they allowed another shorty.  It's completely unacceptable.  It's embarassing.

    That's all I've got right now.  Travis Zajac is close to a return, but that won't cure the defense of its woes.  I really think it's time to make some changes, and none of the changes require a trade...yet.  They're in Toronto on Tuesday.  That game will be a huge challenge, especially after the Leafs got embarassed at home to the Bruins again.

    DECEMBER 2nd, 2011: Devils 2, Wild 4.  The winningest goaltender of all-time cost the Devils dearly tonight.

    I'm not going to go on another rant tonight.  The Devils outplayed the Minnesota Wild for most of the night, but the 'other' five minutes or so cost the Devils the game.  Martin Brodeur was just awful tonight, as he was in the third period in the Colorado game on Wednesday.  He allowed three goals on four shots.  That completely ruined the Devils getting off to a nice start, as Zach Parise deflected Andy Greene's slapshot for a very 1-0 lead.  In the blink of an eye, that 1-0 lead became a 3-1 deficit.  Now, Ilya Kovalchuk was again the victim of turnovers tonight, as two key misplays by Kovy ultimately resulted in the Wild's first two goals.  Still, Brodeur probably should have bailed Kovalchuk out on at the very least one of the goals.  From the first period of the Colorado game through the end of the first period in this game, Kovalchuk had been on the ice for seven goals against in four periods.

    The Devils got back in the game on a goal by Kovalchuk.  It was a sweet snipe that hit a Minnesota defenseman and found its way past Niklas Backstrom.  As Brodeur was pulled nine minutes into the game, Backstrom was relieved after the first period, and then Josh Harding put on a show.  He made 22 saves on 22 shots.  The Devils had 31 shots total, six of which came off the stick of Kovalchuk.  Zach Parise had an additional eight shots on goal (not including his goal, which came on a deflection).  That top line was simply dominant tonight.  Harding robbed them of several high-quality scoring chances, even though the line produced both Devils goals.  Adam Henrique was also the unsung hero of the line, creating numerous chances from the boards and picking up another assist.

    The Wild pretty much did what they usually do: get off to a lead and then let their goaltender make saves for the rest of the night.  Minnesota had only 16 shots on goal.  Although Kovalchuk did score to cut the Wild lead to 3-2, Harding and his team never broke after that.  Kovalchuk's misplay late in the third eventually led to Kyle Brodziak's second of the game on a breakaway that made it 4-2 Wild.  One final note on Kovalchuk: he had nearly seven minutes of power play time tonight, but 37 seconds of shorthanded time, and I think his shorthanded shift was his best shift of the game.  He created scoring chances and did a good job on the penalty kill, which killed off both power plays against tonight.  Of course, the Devils power play was 0-for-5, but not allowing any short-handed goals against.

    The Devils really needed to find a way to bury one (or more) of their chances on Josh Harding.  They really did play pretty well tonight and probably deserved a better fate.  Their power play came up empty again.  I thought their first power play was decent, but they're still not even close to scoring on the power play.  I maintain that Adam Oates needs to be fired.  He's just not getting his message across to the players...whatever his message actually is.

    The Devils are right back on the ice tomorrow in Winnipeg.  I relate these two games to when the Devils lost a tough one in Boston and then bounced back strong the next night in Buffalo.  The Devils played well in the Boston game and lost and they played well tonight and lost.  They played a very strong game for the most part in Buffalo and scored 5 goals.  I fully expect another strong effort tomorrow night.  If they lose, though, they'll fall to .500 and then it will be panic time.

    DECEMBER 1st, 2011: What I've realized over the course of this season is when I criticize the Devils for something, I don't come up with a solution.  I'm like the Occupy Wall Street group: I speak my mind and go on rants, but I never offer my solution.  So, I thought today would be an appropriate time to do so.  It's a day off for the team, as they'll be in Minnesota tomorrow night to face the best team in the league (wow, did I just say that about the Minnesota Wild??!).

    Let's start with Ilya Kovalchuk, shall we?  Here's a guy who had scored 40 goals in six straight seasons entering last season, before he struggled to crack 30 (he finished with 31 goals).  He currently has 5 goals in 18 games played this season, leaving him on pace for around 20.  That's obviously not what $100 million was supposed to pay to do.  Now, to put this in perspective, consider last night: Kovy scored the Devils' only goal and was still a -4 in terms of +/- rating.  That means he and his linemates (Parise and Henrique) were on the ice for five of Colorado's six goals against.  And if you remember, I briefly discussed Corsi stats a while back, which determine the shots attempted while a player was on and off the ice, and the Devils generate a lot more offense when Parise and Kovalchuk are off the ice than on, and when they are on the ice, the opposition has puck possession more times than not.

    So how is this relevant?  Well, for the first time all season, I'm calling out Peter DeBoer.  Kovalchuk had the best success of his career under Bob Hartley in Atlanta.  The last he coach he played for in Atlanta was Craig Ramsay.  The most success Kovy has had in New Jersey was obviously under Jacques Lemaire.  Now, I will say that the reasons for Kovalchuk's success in Atlanta compared to New Jersey do vary, because even though Hartley and Ramsay were strict coaches, Kovalchuk ran the offense in Atlanta, nobody is doubting that.

    Again I'll ask, how is this relevant?  Jacques Lemaire is the only coach Kovalchuk has had in New Jersey that had a structured system and knew exactly what he wanted from each of his players.  He was, and still is, a brilliant hockey person.  The other two coaches Kovalchuk has had in New Jersey, John MacLean and Peter DeBoer, are simply not that brilliant.  They do not know how to use superstar players in the right situations.  The first thing MacLean did last summer was move Kovalchuk to right wing.  Why?  Kovalchuk had scored well over 300 goals in eight seasons because he played left wing.  The left wing has more freedom to forecheck more aggressively and let's face, isn't as defensively responsible as the right wing (at least the way the Devils played).  Kovalchuk obviously felt comfortable on the left side, where he also created space for himself to release his wicked snap shot from his off wing.

    MacLean, and now DeBoer, changed his role.  Many people also believe that Kovalchuk hasn't found the right linemates in New Jersey, which may be true, but let's also face the fact that Kovalchuk was often times the only offensively talented player on his lines in Atlanta.  I personally believe that it all boils down to the fact that DeBoer was an excellent coach in the OHL's Kitchener, and MacLean was in excellent coach for the Lowell Devils of the AHL.  MacLean was a great assistant with the Devils for almost a decade and DeBoer was a decent coach with the Florida Panthers.  But neither coach had to deal with the talent on the Devils roster and the star-caliber until they became the head coach of the Devils.  Neither of them have been able to deal with star players, because this isn't just about Kovalchuk.  This is just as much about Zach Parise's struggles.  Parise played well under Brent Sutter, who in my opinion, has been the Devils best coach in terms of a balance between offense and defense since the lockout.  Parise played well under Lemaire, but has also struggled under MacLean and DeBoer.

    Ilya Kovalchuk played 33 games under MacLean and as of last night, 18 under DeBoer.  He has a grand total of 13 goals in those games.  Parise played 12 games under MacLean and 23 under DeBoer.  His goal total in 35 games is 9.  Yes, you read that correctly, Kovalchuk and Parise total 22 goals in 86 combined games under MacLean and DeBoer.  If that doesn't make your jaw drop, I'm not sure what will.  You know the talent that both players possess.  Kovalchuk went on to score 23 goals in 48 games under Lemaire last season and Parise posted seasons of 45 and 38 goals during Sutter's last season in New Jersey and Lemaire's full season in 2009-10.  I think there's a large enough sample size to come to a conclusion about MacLean and DeBoer.

    I must admit, I was cautiously excited about both hirings of MacLean and DeBoer.  I thought they would be able to do what Sutter did, especially during the 2008-09 season: open up the Devils' style of play while not sacrificing on the defensive side.  The Devils wouldn't go into a 1-2-2 (or 1-3-1...) anymore, but they'd be smart about their decisions, which they are not anymore.  Now, I am not suggesting that the Devils should fire DeBoer.  I haven't reached that level yet.  I think DeBoer needs to adjust his system, because right now, his philosophy is confusing the players on the roster and frustrating them.  A coach's job is to get the most out of his players, not renovate a team.

    Guess what?  The time to act is now.  Lou Lamoriello needs to get involved with DeBoer and the entire coaching staff (and honestly, please do everyone a favor and fire Adam Oates) and talk about what can be changed NOW.  Now is the time to act, not two days before Christmas.  The Devils are 12-10-1.  They can still make the playoffs this season.  For the team's financial sake, they really need to make the playoffs this season, if for nothing else, to show Parise that this will be a winning atmosphere moving forward.  If not, why would Parise re-sign in New Jersey long-term? 

    I know this has been an incredibly disorganized post, and I apologize for that, but this was one of those things where I needed to get a lot off my mind and written down.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    NOVEMBER 30th, 2011: Devils 1, Avalanche 6.  Headline: Yuck.

    It took just a few shifts before you realized that tonight was going to be disgusting.  It took 8 minutes for that to become a fact.  Three goals in the first half of the first period by the Avalanche turned what should have been a tight, low-scoring game into a blowout.  The Devils never even made the Avs work up a sweat in the first period.  It's that simple.  Why?  Well, all of the Devils' problems this season were magnified tonight.

    The primary problem with the Devils right now are turnovers.  Tonight, everyone joined the turnover party.  It was like the team went to Arby's (sorry, I already used that line...).  Adam Larsson, Mark Fayne, Henrik Tallinder, even the usually smart Adam Henrique had his moments.  The Avs, who entered the game LAST in the NHL in team shooting percentage (somewhere in the 6.0% ballpark, if I read In Lou We Trust correctly this morning) and couldn't score to save their lives at home broke out of their slump.

    As a result of turnovers, defensive shifts are extended, and players are out of gas before they can create an offensive chance.  If I sound like a broken record, it's because I've probably mentioned that before as well.  The Devils were unable to get anything going offensively in this game, except for a brief portion of the 2nd period.  The Devils, who looked as if they were showing signs of life offensively a week or so again, were very flat.  Their passes got broken up, they made poor decisions with the puck and they couldn't generate any secondary chances or sustain pressure.

    The third problem is arguably the biggest problem of them all (I'd say turnovers are still worse).  It's the power play, or lack there of.  It just doesn't make any sense: the Devils have Kovalchuk, Parise and Elias, power play specialists, and not only do they look bad on the power play offensively, but they're giving up more short-handed goals (6) than they've scored power play goals (5).  That just can't happen!  It is baffling to me that the Devils are so confused on the power play.

    The Devils scored once tonight, and it was Ilya Kovalchuk from Adam Henrique and Zach Parise.  Although all three recorded points, this was not any of those players' best efforts.  Other than the goal, they had one decent scoring chance as a line.  They're simply not finding each other and not doing anything offensively.  I believe ALL three of those forwards were on the ice for each of the Avs' first four goals against.  Yeah, that's being outplayed as a line.  It's time to shuffle the lines again, even if it means separating Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora.

    On an unrelated note, Ryan Carter and Dainius Zubrus both limped off of the ice at different points of this game.  Neither were hurt badly and both returned.  That's a break for the Devils, because both have been consistent for the Devils this season, although I'll admit, Carter hasn't played as well lately.

    The Devils drop two in a row, they're 12-10-1, still not awful, but it'll take a considerably stronger effort to beat any of the remaining teams on the road trip (Minnesota, Winnipeg and Toronto in that order).  The Devils can't just sit and wait for Travis Zajac to return to the lineup, a) because he's still at least 2 or 3 weeks away and b) he's not a 100-point center that can take a team on his shoulders.  He'll help, but everyone needs to play their role better than they are right now.  Let's see what happens Friday night in Minnesota.

    NOVEMBER 29th, 2011: As the Devils prepare to face the Colorado Avalanche tomorrow, there are some very minor things to point out as far as the roster is concerned.  Brad Mills was placed on waivers today, which is good, because he's as useful to the Devils as an instruction manual is to a blind man.  I think you get the picture.  Of course, Tim Sestito isn't much better.  Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing Steve Zalewski or Matt Anderson get a shot with the big club, since they've been playing fairly well with Albany.  After all, even Stephen Gionta got his chance in the NHL last season.  As for right now, though, Mills is not travelling with the Devils, which leads me to believe that Rod Pelley could be in the lineup tomorrow night in Denver.  This could also be related to Mills being 'banged up' after the Islander games.

    Andy Greene apparently missed a practice yesterday, so Alexander Urbom was re-called from Albany, but he went right back down today.  Again, I'd like to see Urbom take Mark Fayne's spot in the lineup for a while, because Fayne has been...let's be nice, mediocre recently.  I'm guessing Mark Fraser will play tomorrow if Greene is unable to play.

    If you take Travis Zajac literally, he should be practicing with the Devils a week from tomorrow.  At that point, hopefully he'd be a week or so away from a full return to the Devils' lineup, which will certainly have a positive residual effect on the whole team.  If I had to guess, I'd say Zajac will eventually be re-united with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, meaning the rookie Adam Henrique will not be up against the opposition's top defensemen, which in theory, will help Henrique's point total (he's prorated for 60 points right now).  The Devils could potentially move Patrik Elias to left wing, and have Henrique center Elias and Petr Sykora, which would force Dainius Zubrus to center Mattias Tedenby and David Clarkson, or have Henrique center Tedenby and Clarkson.  In my opinion, Henrique with Tedenby and Clarkson could be the best offensive solution, at least for Tedenby's sake.

    NOVEMBER 26th, 2011: Islanders 3, Devils 2.  NHL referees have taken their suckage to a new level.

    I could write about the first 59 minutes and 54 seconds of this game, but I don't think anyone cares about that right now.  This game will forever be remembered for its final 5.1 seconds.  The Devils lose the face-off in the offensive zone after an icing call down 3-2 on the score board, but Dainius Zubrus made a heads up play to storm past the Islanders players and center the puck from the goal line and Zach Parise was able to get the puck past Al Montoya.  Unfortunately, the War Room in Toronto decided the puck was kicked in.  Well, it's a good thing they're not soccer refs, because the puck simply wasn't kicked in.  The puck went off of Parise's skate for sure, but it wasn't kicked or propelled in.  The bottom line is that even if the puck hadn't hit Parise's skate, there's a good chance Parise would have flipped the puck in off his stick, but you can't assume that.  The War Room got it wrong, it is that simple.  This game should have gone to overtime.

    Or should it have?  The Devils thoroughly deserved to lose this game.  To say they were sloppy doesn't do the team justice.  They played downright awful for most of the game, and as they have many times recently, they nearly found a way to win a game they shouldn't have.  I lost count of the number of breakaways they surrendered directly due to bad turnovers.  Yes, Michael Grabner is a great player and a fast one at that, but the Devils were so careless with the puck today, and at times without the puck, too.  Obviously, the primary evidence of their turnovers was Ilya Kovalchuk's inexcusable fumble in the Devils zone on the power play that led to the eventual game-winning, short-handed goal.  Kovalchuk tried to dance around Grabner with nobody to back him up should the play result in a turnover, and that cost the Devils.  The power play in general looked absolutely terrible today.

    But I'll keep going.  It wasn't even that play that should have cost the Devils today.  They kept blowing their defensive coverages on Islanders, and while trailing 2-1 late in the 2nd, Martin Brodeur made one of his all-time saves on Kyle Okposo with his glove from his back.  The save brought back memories of this robbery of Simon Gagne.  Brodeur was spectacular in this game and was only beat by some truly terrific shots by the Isles (and lackadaisical Devils play).

    On a positive note, Kovalchuk did set up both Devils goals, and Zach Parise recorded one point that did count today.  Both Adams played very well (Larsson still had some growing pains), especially Henrique, who is honestly playing as well as any Devils player right now.  He's magical with and without the puck.  He's playing like a talented veteran.  As I said on Twitter today, Henrique has looked better than any Devils rookie I can think of in many years.  Mattias Tedenby showed huge signs of improvement.  He looked good in all parts of his game today.  I think he'll start going offensively once he buries one.  I also think Anton Volchenkov had a solid game.  He's been as physical as ever in his Devils career over the past half-dozen games or so.  On the flip side, Andy Greene struggled today.  Finally, Peter DeBoer seems to like Mark Fayne, and he played close to half of the game today.  He played okay in my opinion.  He did some things well, but he shouldn't be forced into the offensive situations they're putting him in.

    It's been a very difficult week for the Devils.  They blew a 3-0 lead in Florida to close out their road trip, then barely squeaked by a pathetic Columbus Blue Jackets team two days later and capped the week off by losing a heartbreaker to the Islanders, who by the way, hadn't won a game on the road all season until today.  That's a lot for the Devils to ponder before they head out west to Colorado on Wednesday night.

    NOVEMBER 25th, 2011: Devils 1, Islanders 0.  Another high-scoring game involving the Devils.

    Well, today was all about Johan Hedberg.  He made 23 saves, but some of them were of the difficult variety (at least for a team as miserable as the Islanders).  Some saves that stand out were the point blank pad stop on P.A. Parenteau, the save on the double-drop pass by the Isles and obviously the two stops on Michael Grabner, one on the breakaway and the other on the penalty shot.  Adam Larsson needs to be much more careful, because he's been sloppy with his passing lately, even though I feel like his overall game is improving every game.  He did pick up a point for his fourth straight game, assisting on Petr Sykora's power play goal.

    And that Sykora goal was the only goal of the game, obviously.  It was a lucky power play goal, as Larsson's stick broke and allowed Sykora to pick his spot on Al Montoya before beating him.  Without that lucky break, the Devils power play looked terrible yet again.  Sykora continues to find great scoring chances.  This isn't 2000 anymore, but he is working very well with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus lately.

    Other than that line, I thought today was the best game for the Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk line.  All three played very strong games 5-on-5 and short-handed (the Devils played well in the early minutes of the game, but did take three minor penalties).  Adam Henrique is becoming a very dominant player in all three zones.  I figured he was just red hot when he came back from Albany, but he's showing up every game and making a difference every shift.  Kovalchuk played a strong, complete game as well.  He's been shooting lately, which is a good sign, and Parise had a strong game again.  He played well against Columbus, so hopefully the two big wingers start scoring consistently soon, because the Devils do need them to score at a higher rate than they are right now.

    Although he took an early penalty, Bryce Salvador stood out to me.  He played strong on the penalty kill and 5-on-5.  On the other end, Larsson struggled today, but it didn't cost the Devils.  He needs to slow down and stop trying to be Superman on every shift.

    Today was a solid effort, and they got a regulation win, which is what it boils down to.  They still need to score more.  They seem to be so close to really putting a bunch of pucks in, but they're not quite there yet.  I have a feeling it'll take more than one goal to win tomorrow.

    NOVEMBER 23rd, 2011: Blue Jackets 1, Devils 2 (Shootout).  I'll keep this brief tonight.  The Devils got severely outplayed by a miserable Columbus team (they were outshot 17-3 in the third period) and got owned in almost every aspect of the game outside of the second half of the first period.  It wasn't pretty, and they only scored once, but thanks to Martin Brodeur, the Devils still get two points on this night as Kovalchuk and Parise get the job done in the shootout...again.

    I think Adam Larsson looked solid tonight, and he is starting to put points up.  That's three games in a row with a point for Larsson.  Adam Henrique was also spectacular with the puck.  Mattias Tedenby also showed some signs of explosiveness, but still nothing to show for it on the score sheet.  Patrik Elias continues his point-per-game pace.  But outside of them and Brodeur (and at times Dainius Zubrus and Zach Parise), this was a poorly played game by the Devils.  They continue to struggle in the third period.  Their power play is still ineffective and their penalty kill is still ridiculously good.  That's about it.

    Finally, congratulations again to Zubrus, who was honored for recently playing his 1,000th game played in Buffalo.  Zubrus scored the Devils' only goal on a rebound from Larsson's shot.  Zubrus is averaging a point per game over the last 8 games.  This is as strong as Zubrus has ever looked as a Devil, especially considering he didn't do much over the first half dozen games or so.

    The Devils better show up for the Islanders game on Friday.  The Isles always play the Devils tough, especially on Long Island.  The Islanders are struggling badly, but they're certainly no easy win, especially against the Devils.

    NOVEMBER 21st, 2011: Devils 3, Panthers 4.  I was just debating whether I should write this while I'm still angry or wait until cooler heads prevail.  Well, I'm still angry, so here goes...

    Let's start with the good.  The penalty kill was very good, as usual.  The Panthers were 0-for-4 on their power play, including a solid 5-on-3 opportunity.  Martin Brodeur was brilliant on the PK as well.  Then the Devils overcame a sluggish start and scored three quick goals!  Kovalchuk scored on a rebound, Sykora scored a carbon copy and then Zubrus one-timed Patrik Elias' cross-crease pass into the net and it looked like it would be another good game for the Devils.  They even kept buzzing into the second period, but then they stopped.  They had two scoring chances (by my count) the entire rest of the game: Henrique's backhander that hit the post and a late rush that obviously came up short.

    Now, let's look at the bad...and there was a lot of bad in this one.  The Devils continue to struggle getting the puck out of the defensive zone.  I understand the Panthers were forechecking extremely aggressively, but the Devils' defensemen didn't seem to have that urgency with their puck-clearing.  They were nonchalant and it came back to hurt them.  Failed clearings create longer defensive shifts, which wears out the forwards and makes it harder to generate offense.

    Then there was the power play.  The Devils didn't get many chances, but they had one huge 5-on-3, and they never even threatened on it.  The Panthers were patient, and they killed it off with ease.  The Devils led 3-2 after two periods, but the Panthers just kept dominating the second and third periods.  After Kris Versteeg scored the first two in the second period, the Panthers scored late in the third to take a 4-3 lead.  Again, I hesitate to fault Brodeur on any of them, honestly.  Every goal was preventable, but the Devils were extremely careless and sloppy.

    The Panthers are a good team, I'll admit that, but they're not an elite team, so blowing a 3-0 lead to them is unacceptable.  The Devils are notorious for holding leads, and tonight they blew a three goal lead.  That never happens in New Jersey with this franchise.  Tonight was an awful loss.  No, it's not the end of the world.  No, the Devils aren't going to plummit into last place in the conference.  BUT, the Devils had won six of eight, and they need to finish off games like this.  They've been riding a dangerous line with their wins in Buffalo and Tampa Bay, allowing the opposing team back into both games, but the Devils didn't break.  Instead of bending tonight, they broke.

    Finally, I'm not happy with the Panthers for three of their hits tonight.  Shawn Matthias' shoulder hit Anton Volchenkov early.  There was no penalty called.  The hit was worth a penalty, and nothing more.  It was a dirty play in my opinion, but not the worst hit in the world.  Volchenkov has an apparently serious facial laceration.  To be fair, the Devils were without their best shutdown defenseman from essentially the beginning of the game.  As he did when Tyler Myers drilled Dainius Zubrus in Buffalo, Ilya Kovalchuk took offense to the hit and was all over Matthias.  He took a roughing minor then.  Rod Pelley later faught Matthias, and thoroughly destroyed him.

    I'm not sure who exactly hit Andy Greene, but a Panther pushed Greene hard into the boards later in the game, which shook Greene up.  That was a borderline hit.  Finally, Jack Skille carelessly ran into Ilya Kovalchuk, which shook Kovy up for a while.  He looked to be in pain on the bench.  What angered me is that Florida scored their go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal shortly after that hit.  Kovy played a decent game, however Zach Parise, this team's captain, has been absolutely invisible lately, which is unacceptable.

    So the Devils fall to 10-8-1.  They're outside the Top 8 in the East right now, which isn't really a big deal, but tonight was definitely an opportunity blown.  The Devils have to get back on track on Wednesday, at home against Columbus.  That will be a classic 'trap' game.  It's the first home game after a long road trip, and it's against a lousy Blue Jackets team that just won their second game in a row for the first time in 42 games.  Then the Devils have a double dose of the Islanders, so they really need to focus on beating up a pair of bad teams.

    *As a side note, congratulations to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on a sensational return.  Luckily, the Devils game started at 7:30 tonight, so I was fortunate enough to watch Crosby's first two points, including an unbelievable goal on his second shift.  Crosby played under 16 minutes and had two goals and two assists.  Say all you want about the Islanders being an awful team, which they are, but they're still in the NHL and Crosby was absolutely magical tonight.  Pittsburgh won, 5-0.

    NOVEMBER 20th, 2011: Devils 4, Lightning 2.  (This is a very disorganized bunch of thoughts I have.)  That was a crazy game.  It was another one of those games that felt like it should have been over, but wasn't really over until the end.  Let's start with the first period.  Neither team had any "Grade A" scoring chances, although David Clarkson's one-timer from the slot was probably the toughest save for either goaltender.  The Devils did outplay Tampa Bay for much of the period.  The second period, however, was all Devils.  The Devils scored three goals on ten shots, but dominated offensively.  Their passes were tape-to-tape, they tried pretty plays and scored on a few of them.  It was fun to watch, for sure.  Then in the third, it was a matter of hanging on.  The Devils got themselves into a great deal of penalty trouble, and while they killed the Tampa Bay power plays, including 1:31 of Tampa Bay 5-on-3 time, they shut down the NHL's top ranked power play.

    Eventually, Martin St. Louis and Ryan Shannon scored to make it 3-2 Devils, but Dwayne Roloson pulled a Hedberg and Ryan Carter roofed the puck into an empty net to make it 4-2, which held as the final.  Adam Henrique keeps dazzling on the ice, David Clarkson keeps impressing offensively and Dainius Zubrus is having quite a start to his season as well.  Those were the Devills' goal scorers in the second period.  It's amazing to watch the Devils kill penalties right now.  They are literally creating better offensive chances short-handed than on the power play right now.  They have three short-handers this season, and Zubrus' goal tonight was essentially a shorty, thought it occured seconds after killing a Tampa Bay power play.  With that said, the Devils did draw 8 power plays, and they scored on two of them, so that's actually three straight games with a power play goal.

    I think this team is still finding out what kind of team they're going to be.  Right now, the Devils have won 6 of their last 8 games (only one of which came in a shootout), and are starting to look similar to the last Devils team that had any success offensively: the 2008-09 club.  There is one difference between then and now: Zach Parise was a threat every single shift that season.  He ended up with 45 goals and 94 points that season.  He's not even close to that pace right now, in fact, he's on pace to scratch at the door of a 30 goal season.  That isn't going to get him a huge contract in July.

    Hopefully, Parise's fortunes will turn soon, because Travis Zajac is going to return somewhat soon.  He and Parise became one of hockey's most electrifying duos during the 2008-10 span of two seasons.  The two combined for 305 points between 2008-09 and 2009-10, which nearly paralleled the point outputs for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago.  Last season, Parise lasted just 12 games before his knee injury essentially ended his season, and Zajac simply wasn't the same player, as he posted just 44 points last season.  Perhaps this is the reverse.  Parise, who has just 10 points in 17 games this season, isn't the explosive star winger he was just two seasons ago, but the bottom line is that he's 27 years old and the best of Parise has yet to come.  Hopefully, it will be in a Devils uniform and Zajac's return (around Christmas) will re-ignite one of the most dynamic duos in Devils history.

    Now, let's look ahead.  The Devils are now 10-7-1, and they play in Florida on Monday, the team that let Pete DeBoer leave as head coach last season.  Then they face the Blue Jackets in Newark, the Islanders for a home-and-home before a brief road trip to Colorado, Minnesota and Winnipeg.  It's time for the Devils to really take off if they want to make the playoffs this season.  They've been playing very well over the past 8 games.  They could have easily won all 8 of them, but truly did beat themselves in the losses to Washington and Boston.  The Devils have looked very good offensively (I can't believe I just said that...) recently and are showing improvements on defense, while Martin Brodeur looks considerably better than a few weeks ago.  If they can find a way to tighten up defensively without sacrificing offensive creativity, that can only help all aspects of the game.  Still, I'm not 100% sold on Pete DeBoer's system yet.  Perhaps if the Devils beat these "lesser" teams in the coming days, I will be.  We'll see how Monday goes, then.

    NOVEMBER 18th, 2011: There's nothing new regarding the Devils today, although apparently Vladimir Zharkov was sent back to AHL Albany, so if you haven't heard, there's that.  I wanted to spend some time talking about Zach Parise's future with the Devils.  There have been rumors, and I stress, they are just rumors right now, that the Kings and Devils have been discussing a potential Parise-to-L.A. trade recently, and the apparent proof of that is that the two teams are reportedly sending scouts to each other's weekend games.  The Kings host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday afternoon and the Devils are in Tampa Bay to face the Lightning.  If you'd like to further indulge yourself with rumors regarding Parise, click here

    By now, you probably know my personal feeling about Parise: he needs to stay with the Devils.  Zach is a special player, obviously, and he truly is the face of the Devils franchise.  Yes, at this point in time, Zach Parise has dethroned Martin Brodeur as the face of the Devils.  It isn't Ilya Kovalchuk or Patrik Elias, and it isn't Adam Larsson (yet), it's Parise.  He's American-born, he's an explosive and hard-working two-way superstar forward.  The Devils will be idiotic to let him go. 

    Now, I am well aware of the Devils' financial situation.  They're borderline bankrupt and an ownership change may be on the horizon, but letting Parise go isn't going to do the franchise any long-term favors.  Management must have felt that acquiring and then eventually re-signing Ilya Kovalchuk would boost attendance dramatically.  Well, honestly, it didn't.  In fact, Devils attendance has actually declined every season since the Prudential Center opened.  If Parise leaves the Devils, attendance will plummit further.  I don't even think it's an exaggeration to say that letting Parise go could permanently destroy the Devils franchise.

    By now, you're probably thinking "well, the Devils have let a lot of great players go, why is Parise any different?"  You'd be right.  The Devils have watched as everyone from Brendan Shanahan to Brian Rafalski to Scott Niedermayer and Scott Gomez to Brian Gionta and Paul Martin have all left the Devils via free agency while they were at the top of their games.  But it never seemed to hurt the team significantly.  The Devils kept making the playoffs through all of those guys leaving New Jersey.  I believe, however, that letting Parise go would be the greatest mistake of all of the players who have left Jersey previously because of the situation he's currently in.  The Devils also named Parise the team's captain before the season started, and while Scott Niedermayer left the team while he was captain, Parise is just now entering the prime of his career.  He could be one of the greatest Devils of all-time when he retires, and I truly believe that if the right opportunity presents itself, he'd like to remain with the Devils.  This isn't like Ilya Kovalchuk being named Atlanta captain in desperation to re-sign him.  Kovalchuk had no intention of ever staying in Atlanta.  Parise is in a place that is used to winning and wants to win all the time right now.

    Some people would probably think that the Devils should jump on the chance to land Jonathan Bernier, a talented goaltender, to replace Martin Brodeur right away and then trade Johan Hedberg for draft picks.  That way, the Devils would have an easy transition from Brodeur to Bernier.  I genuinly believe that Parise isn't worth Bernier.  Jonathan Bernier is going to be a very solid NHL starting goaltender for years, and whoever acquires him is going to enjoy the success he brings.  The Devils are simply not the right fit for a goaltender of his caliber right now.  The Devils are not built to have a franchise goaltender right now.  Think about that for a minute.  The Devils have built a team that is stronger up front than it is on the blue line.  I think that with Parise and Kovalchuk as the go-to wingers and Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson as the team's centers for the long-term, the Devils can make another Stanley Cup run relatively soon.  Trading away Parise is a sign of a complete rebuild, which is simply not necessary right now.

    So then who does replace Brodeur?  The Devils could be letting an opportunity to let the next goaltender go, right?  But how many Stanley Cup rings do 'franchise goalies' in the NHL have?  Henrik Lundqvist doesn't have any, Ryan Miller doesn't have any, Roberto Luongo doesn't have any, Miikka Kiprusoff doesn't have any, Steve Mason doesn't have any (okay, that was a joke...).  Having a franchise goaltender doesn't guarantee success.  Hell, Dominek Hasek never won a Cup in Buffalo and Curtis Joseph never won a Cup at all.  In today's NHL, the value of a player like Parise supercedes the value of a goaltender.

    There you have it: Zach Parise leaving the Devils would crumble the Devils franchise.  I'm saying it now and if Parise does leave, you can quote me on it.  The Devils don't rebuild.  Since their first playoff berth in 1988 to now, they build, not rebuild.  If Parise leaves, they will have to rebuild.  Does Lou Lamoriello want to stick around for that?  Can the Devils rely on their next owner to invest in a team that doesn't have players to build around?  By the time the Devils are ready to win again, will it be too late for the 'core' they have now (essentially Ilya Kovalchuk)?  This is not an experiment worth trying.  For the Devils, re-sign Parise at all costs and show your fans that the franchise isn't about to tumble.  There's a crisis both on and off the ice that can be avoided if all sides use their brains.  If Zach Parise receives a respectable offer from the Devils, he WILL re-sign.  Consider that a fact.  The consequences of losing him would be absolutely devistating.

    NOVEMBER 16th, 2011: Devils 5, Sabres 3.  By no means was this a "perfect game" by the Devils, but it was a good one throughout.  The Devils did a lot of things right tonight to do what they couldn't do in Boston: take advantage of opportunities.  If you look at shots on goal alone, the Sabres outplayed the Devils, and the Devils were sloppy at times, but overall, the effort was stronger than what happened in Boston, especially in the third period.

    Like last night, the Sabres gave the Devils chances to take control of the game early, and unlike last night, they did just that tonight.  Zach Parise found himself alone in the slot and he blasted a short-handed goal between Jhonas Enroth's pads less than three minutes in.  Then on the power play, Ilya Kovalchuk turned back the clock in his first game back from his groin injury, sniping one past Enroth, with an assist from Brodeur.  The Devils controlled play in the period, despite shots on goal being even at 7 apiece.  The Devils had one short-handed shot and one power play shot, and both beat Enroth.

    Although shots favored Buffalo in the second period, the Devils played a solid period, especially considering the Sabres were at home and the Devils had travelled from Boston after playing a tough game last night.  Martin Brodeur was in absolute command tonight, despite allowing three goals.  His glove was unbelievable all night, and he played the puck so well that it kept the flow of the game intact.  Mark Fayne scored from Petr Sykora range - that is, right off the face-off from Adam Henrique and over Enroth.

    In the third period, the Devils kept coming, which baffled Pierre McGuire on Versus tonight.  He couldn't get over the "new" New Jersey Devils.  Eventually, after a strong shift by Patrik Elias along the wall, Petr Sykora fed Elias, who slapped one by Enroth to make it 4-1 at the time.  David Clarkson's backhander on a breakaway following a good chance by the Sabres made it 5-2, and the final was 5-3.  I thought the team played well as a whole, and while the defensemen played okay, Brodeur really helped them out with his puck handling tonight.

    Now, tonight was Dainius Zubrus' 1,000th career NHL game, and it will be remembered because of the hit that Tyler Myers, who scored twice tonight from Dustin Byfuglien territory (his only two goals this season), absolutely crushed Zubrus.  To be honest, I think Myers charged Zubrus, left his feet and used his elbow to follow through with the hit.  It was also a bit late, as Zubrus had already tipped the puck in deep.  I completely disagree with the Versus crew, who didn't have a problem with the hit.  Why?  Because Zubrus didn't get hurt.  It's not about the injuries, it's about the hit.  Zubrus is a big guy.  If Myers had rocked, say, Parise, I think we'd be talking about a pretty serious upper-body injury right now.

    So the Devils win, on the road and in regulation.  The right guys found the score sheet, as Parise and Kovalchuk scored special teams goals.  This is a big win for the Devils, who improve to 9-7-1, rather than falling back to 8-8-1.  They're hanging in there in a tough division, but they haven't gotten hot yet.  The bottom line is that this team has now scored 23 goals over their last 8 games (2.88 goals per game), which is remarkably higher than their scoring output from the previous stretch of games (18 goals over the first 9 games, 2.00 goals per game).  Mind you, over the last eight games, Parise hasn't exactly been lighting it up and Kovalchuk didn't play five of them.  I think the best of the Devils has yet to come this year.  Perhaps we'll see more of what we saw tonight Saturday in Tampa Bay.

    NOVEMBER 16th, 2011: Devils 3, Bruins 4.  The Devils didn't get blown out, as many other Bruins' opponents have been lately.  In fact, the Devils outplayed the Bruins for most of the game, but as they have in many games this season, the Devils couldn't find a way to win, and the Bruins did.  Through two periods, the game was tied 1-1, and the only Bruins goal came off of an awful giveaway by Johan Hedberg.  Other than that and almost allowing another short-handed goal in the first period, it was a well-played game by the Devils.

    Then came the third period.  The Devils started pressing and they turned the puck over a lot.  They get into bad habits very often it seems.  That directly led to much of the Bruins' offense in the third period.  They ended up scoring three goals in the third period, including one very late in the period.  The Devils did score two of their own, both by Nick Palmieri, but it wasn't enough.  Perhaps it should have been, but again, sloppy play in their own end and not getting the penalty shot they deserved (hand over puck in the crease) hurt them. While the Bruins trapped the Devils in their own zone late in the third period, the Devils still created two or three tremendous scoring chances inside the final minute of the game, but came up short.  As Peter DeBoer said, it was a lesson learned.  The most shocking part of the night was David Clarkson's power play goal because it was a power play goal, although it was 5-on-3 and not 5-on-4.  It's time to get going 5-on-4 now.

    Now, it's a quick turnaround tonight, as Martin Brodeur will start in Buffalo and Ilya Kovalchuk makes his return to the lineup.  Unfortunately, the odd man out of the lineup is Mattias Tedenby, who I thought played well in BOTH ends of the ice last night.  He certainly outplayed, say, Nick Palmieri, but the difference is, Palmieri was at the right place at the right time and scored twice, while Tedenby couldn't get any pucks by Tim Thomas.  Hopefully he'll take a step back and be back in the lineup soon.  If he doesn't make an impact by that point, the Devils should give him a few games in Albany.

    So it's Devils-Sabres tonight, then.  If I had to guess, I'd say Ilya Kovalchuk comes out on a tear tonight and scores at least once.  Hopefully Zach Parise can get going too, because he's been extremely quiet lately.  It doesn't look like Ryan Miller is even close to playing, but Jhonas Enroth isn't a push-over, and the Devils quite honestly need to keep going offensively, because they've actually been decent offensively over the past six games or so.  A 4 or 5 goal outburst would be nice.

    NOVEMBER 15th, 2011: The Devils have, in my opinion, their biggest challenge of the year tonight in Boston.  It's always tough to play in TD Garden, but the Bruins are red hot, and they aren't just winning lately, they're blowing teams out left and right.  The Devils really haven't been in any blowout games either way this season, so I wouldn't expect that to change tonight.  They'll play a very tight game and try to limit the Bruins chances offensively.

    More than anything, the one thing that absolutely has to change is the Devils' power play.  It's operating at a 5-for-50 rate this season, which needless to say is 10%, and one of the five power play goals was into an empty net.  The only team to have drawn fewer power play opportunities than the Devils, are the Islanders, who have drawn just 45 power play chances, and the Islanders have also played one fewer game than New Jersey.  In terms of 5-on-4 goals, the Devils are dead last in the NHL with four.  To make matters even worse, the Devils have also given up three short-handed goals, so they're essentially +1 while 5-on-4.

    Getting Ilya Kovalchuk (potentially) back in the lineup should help the power play.  Kovalchuk has made the trip to Boston, and as a complete guess, I'd bet he'll play tonight.  Now, the Devils are 8-6-1, which is decent, and Ilya Kovalchuk, despite missing the last four games with a muscle pull in his leg, is second to Patrik Elias on the team in scoring.  Ilya is also second (to David Clarkson) on the team in shots on goal, yet his shooting percentage is a lousy 5.0% (2-for-40).

    As you may have heard already, Johan Hedberg will start (and hopefully finish, too) for the Devils tonight.  That means Martin Brodeur is healthy and backing up in back-to-back games.  Although that did occur last February when Hedberg won seven straight starts while Brodeur came back from an injury, the fact that Brodeur will sit in back-to-back games while he's healthy is quite unbelievable.  The Martin Brodeur era truly is coming to an end.  By the way, Brodeur's Friday loss to the Capitals was his 353rd loss all-time, which sets a new NHL record in that category.  Let's hope Hedberg doesn't lose his 130th career game, but instead picks up his 145th career win and seventh this season.

    NOVEMBER 12th, 2011: Devils 3, Capitals 2 (shootout).  What a differnece 24, err, 2 hours makes.  The Devils started the game and were playing pretty well early, but couldn't beat Neuvirth, and the Caps jumped on them.  Adam Henrique's bonehead pass directly led to Troy Brouwer's goal in the first period, and Jason Chimera's deflection of John Carlson's shot were the only two goals to beat Johan Hedberg.  Other than that, he was terrific, despite not really facing many shots (including just two shots in the second period).

    I thought Adam Larsson stood out tonight.  Perhaps scoring his first goal gave him confidence, or maybe it was his 19th birthday that gave him a boost.  He didn't score, but he played a solid game.  Patrik Elias was solid again, and he continues to consistently set up goals.  Tonight, he set up Sykora off the face-off yet again.  The entire Tedenby-Carter-Clarkson line played well, and obviously they were rewarded on Carter's goal following a great rush into the zone by Tedenby.  When he turns his engine on, he's as fast as anyone in the league.

    The third period wasn't a really a great period for the Devils, but they survived the third and the overtime (including a late power play for the Caps).  Then in the shootout, Zach Parise just keeps embarassing goalies and David Clarkson put the game to rest in the fourth round after Ovechkin tied it.  Parise is RIGHT BEHIND Pavel Datsyuk as the best shootout players in the league, and you really can't argue that.  He scores dazzling goals, and percentage-wise, he is literally within a percentage point, and both have taken about the same number of shootout shots.  He's just that good (if only he could be a bit more explosive in regulation/overtime...).

    Now the Devils can take a breather before heading into Boston.  The Bruins put up 6 on Buffalo tonight, and they're just on fire.  That's perhaps the biggest test of the season for the Devils in my opinion.  It's safe to say Martin Brodeur starts in goal.  I'm not optimistic about Ilya Kovalchuk's return, judging my the way people have been talking about him the last few days.  Until then, the Devils are 8-6-1, which isn't that bad (even though 4 of the wins are via the shootout...).

    Tomorrow will feature one (perhaps two if I can get power rankings going quick enough) blog post regarding the Hall of Fame inductions, so stay tuned tomorrow!  Thanks for reading.

    NOVEMBER 11th, 2011 (Post-game): Capitals 3, Devils 1.  If hockey games were just one period, the Devils would have played a great game and Adam Larsson's first career goal would have been the game-winner.  However, in case you didn't know, hockey is three periods, which was unfortunate for the Devils tonight.  The first period was a good one for the Devils.  They only had seven shots on goal, but they absolutely dominated time of possession and the defense shut down every Caps' offensive push.  The second period wasn't awful, but it got a bit sloppy as the period wore on, but still, the score was 1-1 after two periods.  The only goal allowed to that point was a back door rebound to Alex Ovechkin, although it baffles me why the Devils left him so wide open in the first place.

    Then came the third period, which makes sense, since the first and second periods had been played.  Now, the Devils outshot the Caps, 16-4 in the third period, but they couldn't get anything going consistently in the period.  There was no sustained pressure and their forecheck was no match for the Caps.  Only a few of the 16 shots were quality chances.  The two goals surrendered were ugly, too.  The Devils gave up another bad shorthanded goal, as Jason Chimera skated by everyone and beat Brodeur.  Once again, Patrik Elias' mistake turned into a shorthanded goal.  Another turnover eventually led to Marcus Johansson's goal that made it 3-1 Caps.

    I have a lot of complaints with the Devils' performance tonight (I'll get into most of them.  I'll exclude the awful officiating, because that's pointless).  First and foremost, they scored one goal.  The momentum seemed to shift away from the Devils when David Clarkson's screaming wrister clanked off the iron early in the second period.  He had Vokoun beat cleanly, but the post isn't a foul pole like in baseball, so it didn't count.  The Devils got a lot of shots, but couldn't make the right decisions with the puck when it mattered. 

    Then there's the power play.  The Devils have three 5-on-4 goals this season and two shorthanded goals allowed, so they're a +1 while 5-on-4 for all practical purposes.  That's pathetic.  I know Ilya Kovalchuk isn't playing right now, but with Elias, Sykora, Parise, Henrique, Tedenby, etc., they should find a way to create GOALS on the power play.  If other teams with less offensive "talent" than the Devils can find ways to score on the power play, the Devils should be able to as well.

    Finally, the Devils defense slowly started to get beat more and more as the game went on.  They've been turning the puck over all the time, which just seems to kill every good shift they generate.  That leads to longer shifts by the forwards, tiring them out and burning them out, and then they have no energy to generate offense, and when they do, they dump the puck in and that doesn't usually result in a goal.

    Look, I get that the Devils are in a rebuilding process, although not a complete overhaul and management will never admit to it.  That's fine, but the Devils have the players on the current roster where they should be scoring goals consistently and simply playing better hockey.  I know this team isn't going to win the Stanley Cup this season and I accept that, but I am not willing to accept the fact that this team is beating themselves the way they are.  The Devils don't have six rookie defensemen, in fact, only Adam Larsson is a rookie (and Mark Fayne is a sophomore).  Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, Andy Greene and Bryce Salvador have plenty of NHL experience.  It's just amazing how they look like they're going to start playing better and then they play such a frustrating game tonight.  The Caps let the Devils run away with this game, especially early, and the Devils refused.

    NOVEMBER 11th, 2011: Well, this Kovalchuk injury is lingering longer than I'm sure most people thought it would.  In case you haven't heard, he'll miss both Washington games this weekend, which means he's aiming for Tuesday when the Devils visit the suddenly red-hot Bruins.  That's okay, though, because the Devils have won three straight and have scored 12 goals over their past four games, which is considerably higher than the pace the Devils have scored at over the past......well, while.

    I've been frustrated with the Devils and with Mattias Tedenby for a while, now, and In Lou We Trust did a great job as always analyzing Tedenby's struggles, so I recommend reading that.  My personal feeling as of right now, especially without Kovalchuk, is that Tedenby should be playing with offensive players.  He's a tremendous forechecker and he's great along the boards, but he's not going to win a Selke trophy, and his talent is best used when he can use his explosive speed, which he has not done this year yet (to be fair, Zach Parise hasn't been doing that either).  Even thought Nick Palmieri played well on Tuesday against Carolina, I'd still rather see the talent of Tedenby playing with Parise and Adam Henrique over Palmieri's one-cylinder engine.  Still, perhaps once Kovalchuk is healthy, a demotion to Albany could be in order for Tedenby.

    Vladimir Zharkov is back.  He's been decent for Albany this season, at least scoring-wise, but he won't be doing much scoring with Brad Mills and Cam Janssen, who are apparently his linemates tonight.  He's a hard-working player who is a terrific passer, but his accuracy is limited to his passing, not shooting.  With that said, he scored a sweet breakaway goal against Boston on the last day of last season, so who knows, maybe he'll spark the team.

    Hopefully Parise gets going tonight.  He's been okay lately, and as I said earlier in the week, his possession numbers and scoring chances are down considerably from where they should be, and he did admit that he's not where he wants to be, as he told Tom Gulitti this week.  Hopefully Henrique stays red hot, and who knows, maybe Palmieri will do something useful too tonight.  My faith in Martin Brodeur is growing slowly but surely.  He'll have to be strong against the Caps tonight.  The Devils are going to cut down on the turnovers if they want a shot at either game this weekend.  Let's go Devils.

    Finally, I am kicking the tires on making Down Goes Avery t-shirts.  I'm not going to lie, I'm hoping it will grow my site, but also benefit David Clarkson's "Clarky's Kids" charity, which in case you didn't know already, benefits children up to age 16 who have serious or terminal illnesses.  The charity is based in Clarkson's hometown in Toronto.  Here's a sneak peak of what the t-shirts may look like.  If you have a better idea, please design your own DGA t-shirt and e-mail if to me (downgoesavery@aol.com) and I might use your's and award a prize.  Thank you to those of you who have already expressed interest in a t-shirt!

    NOVEMBER 8th, 2011Hurricanes 2, Devils 3.  Well, there it is: a regulation win for the Devils.  It had been quite a while since they'd done that, in fact, their last such win came on October 25th in Los Angeles.  Nonetheless, the Devils improve to 7-5-1 as they prepare for a home-and-home with the Washington Capitals, who aren't very good defensively of late.  Translation: perhaps the Devils will continue this three goals per game output that they've been on for four straight games now.

    I don't really see how anyone can criticize the effort the Devils put forth tonight.  Aside from perhaps Elias' power play goof and Adam Larsson's painful turnover, it was a very solid effort, and the Devils dominated a lousy Carolina team, and outshot them, 36-27.  And as cliche as this sounds, if Cam Ward hadn't been as great as he was at times tonight, the Devils could have won 5 or 6 to 2.

    Hopefully Ilya Kovalchuk comes back healthy and scores a bunch against his buddy, Alex Ovechkin, and the Caps this weekend.  To my knowledge, Kovy has yet to score against Washington as a Devil, in the limited number of times he's faced them.  That must change, and it starts Friday.

    And Adam Henrique is still awesome.

    NOVEMBER 7th, 2011: There isn't that much on the news front today, however it doesn't look like Ilya Kovalchuk will play tomorrow against Carolina.  Bottom line: don't rush him.  Perhaps some time off will even do him well.

    I thought I'd use today's segment to write about the state of the team after one month.  The season opened on October 8th and here we are on November 7th.  The Devils are 6-5-1, and according to Scott Cullen of TSN, that's good enough for 27th out of 30 in this week's power rankings (I was a bit more generous in my post).  Sure, Cullen brings up a solid point: the Devils haven't been able to win in regulation at all this season.  I'd say winning in regulation should be the primary goal for the Devils tomorrow night against a mediocre (at best) Carolina Hurricanes team.

    Now, the following may seem a bit complicated, but bear with me.  To further explore how the Devils are playing this season, I'll use a special statistic designed to track puck possession: Corsi

    Incredibly, Jacob Josefson's +23.5 led the Devils back when he was healthy (the Devils' Corsi rating was +16.71 when Josefson was on-ice, versus -6.83 when he was off-ice, so the Devils were getting out puck-controlled when Josefson was off-ice).  Eric Boulton's -34.5 is the worst relative Corsi rating on the team.  You can view the entire Devils team and their Corsi ratings on behindthenet.ca.

    The good news is that Patrik Elias' Corsi rating is +15.2.  Elias has had a very strong season so far, and it's suffice to say that even behind his point total, he is the Devils' best player this season so far.  Petr Sykora's Corsi is actually higher than Elias' (+22.8), but Elias' point production does surpass Sykora's.

    But there is bad news.  Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise's Corsi numbers are -7.3 and -7.4, respectively.  That is unacceptable.  That simply means that they aren't generating enough offense, and when they do, they're on the ice for more shot attempts against.  As a side note, Adam Henrique's Corsi is -9.2, but he also started the season with a very limited offensive role.  In fact, Henrique even played a game or two on the fourth line, so the validity of his statistics are pointless right now.  Adam Larsson's +8.0 is by far the best Corsi figure for the defenseman on the Devils, followed by Andy Greene's +3.6. 

    So what does this all mean?  It means that the Devils are getting outplayed much of the time.  You'd expect your fourth line, and probably your third line (especially if it is used in a checking role) to have negative Corsi figures, but Parise and Kovalchuk have to get going offensively (together or not).  Neither one of them has been on the top of their game, and their point totals for the season reflect that so far.  The Devils, as a team, average 28.8 shots on goal per game, which is 19th in the NHL.  That's not horrible (it isn't good, either), nor the 29.0 shots on goal against per game (10th lowest in the NHL), but the Devils' top offensive players aren't their best offensive players this season.

    *Also, whether you follow along with Corsi or not, do you think that's a valid way to determine puck possession?  Do you like it as a statistic?

    NOVEMBER 6th, 2011: Jets 2, Devils 3 (Overtime).  First things first: Adam Henrique has burst onto the scene.  With his two goals last night, he's scored three goals and two assists over the last three games, which is about the time that coach DeBoer moved him up to center Zach Parise.  Honestly, without Henrique, the Devils are probably still on a losing streak through Philly and against Winnipeg.  Either way, though, the Devils are on a winning streak, and back over .500.  It is a side note at this point, but Adam Larsson now has two points over his last three games after not having a point for the first nine games of the season and his career.

    Now, let's be fair: tonight was not a perfect game by the Devils.  They played well enough to beat a mediocre (at best) team.  They only had 23 shots on goal throughout regulation (as did Winnipeg), and they had some sloppy moments, offensively, defensively and in the neutral zone.  The one constant is the penalty kill, which has been a momentum boost for the team lately.  Somehow, some way, this team needs to cut back on its turnovers.  The most direct example of bad turnovers is Anton Volchenkov losing the puck to Jim Slater, leading to the Jets' game-tying goal late in the 3rd period.  Also, they were sloppy with their offensive chances, too.  Again, they played well enough to beat Winnipeg, but they're going to have to cash in on more of their scoring chances to beat tougher opponents, such as the home and home with the Caps next weekend.

    So, the Devils have a few days off before Carolina comes to Newark on Tuesday.  By that point, Ilya Kovalchuk and Andy Greene should be back in the lineup.  But I want to look further ahead.  Travis Zajac is in the home stretch of his recovery.  In a slightly optimistic, yet possible world, Zajac is about a month away from making a return to the lineup.  Jacob Josefson is probably out for a month after that.  When those two are healthy (assuming nobody else suffers an extended injury in the interim), the Devils' lineup is going to be a much stronger and dangerous lineup.  Patrik Elias or Adam Henrique will probably end up playing on the wing.  Anyway, that's obviously thinking far ahead.  Hopefully Henrique will give management that kind of a 'problem' to deal with at that point.

    Hurricanes/Devils on Tuesday.  I think it's safe to say Martin Brodeur will start that game.  Perhaps Hedberg will get into one of the Washington games next weekend.  Oh, and Brodeur is still at 352 losses, which is tied for the most all-time.

    NOVEMBER 5th, 2011: Winnipeg Jets @ New Jersey Devils, 7 PM.  Word out of the Devils' morning skate this morning is that Kovalchuk and Greene are both out for tonight's game.  Alright, it's a good thing the Devils invited a guy like Anton Stralman to camp, so he can play........oh, that's right, he signed with the Rangers!  Way to go, Lou!  In fairness, Mark Fraser didn't play poorly at all in Philadelphia, and I was actually hoping he would get into a game or two to keep other guys on their toes.

    Now, judging by the morning skate, David Clarkson could take Kovalchuk's spot on the Parise-Henrique line, which is fine.  Clarkson has scored four goals in 11 games and he's actually been quite useful lately.  That's not what bothers me.  The thing that really annoys me is how the Devils are treating Mattias Tedenby.  He might have been the only player on the team that enjoyed playing under John MacLean, because players basically did whatever they wanted to do, and he scored some brilliant goals.  Don't believe me?  Look at this.  Through all the losing and goals against last season, Tedenby finished the season with a +3 rating.  Say what you want about the +/- statistic for forwards, but I know some highly paid players who finished a lot worse than +3 last season.

    So, your go-to star winger gets hurt, you need someone to fill in, so you put the youngster Tedenby on the fourth line with Brad Mills and Cam Janssen?  That's like asking Jay-Z to host a classical music celebration: it just doesn't make any sense.  Vancouver doesn't put Cody Hodgson

    NOVEMBER 4th, 2011: There's no game today, but there's a lot to talk about.  Early reports look good for Ilya Kovalchuk's apparent leg injury.  I guess we have to play the waiting game to see if he plays tomorrow night against Winnipeg.  Johan Hedberg felt a pop in his back, but Martin Bryzga.....ahem, Brodeur, will start tomorrow night anyway.  Andy Greene, who was scratched late before last night's game, has been played at "75%" according to Pete DeBoer.  Honestly, despite taking a questionable penalty, I thought Mark Fraser was fine last night.  There's no need to rush Greene back into the lineup.  I guess Adam Larsson is sore, too, and Martin Brodeur left practice early today, not likely connected to an injury, though.  Oh and Eric Boulton is still recovering.  Whew.  That's all for injuries, at least for the next...20 minutes or so.

    Now, the thing that really has me concerned, more than any injury, is the continuing reports about the Devils' financial situations, as reported by Greg Wyshynski this morning.  As you know, Greg is a Devils fan, and the article quotes Forbes, so that's a pretty reliable source.  There's obviously nothing we can do as fans, except go to as many games and events at the Prudential Center as our wallets will allow us.  Forbes also suggests that Jeff Vanderbeek should be removed as the owner of the Devils, but I can't imagine where that'll take this franchise.  I can say one thing that I'm quite confident about: the Devils will not get relocated.  End of story.  Hell, the Phoenix Coyotes are still in Arizona...

    So now we look ahead to tomorrow.  Winnipeg comes to New Jersey for the first time, this time.  The Devils were 3-1-0 against the Thrashers last season (2-0 in New Jersey, 1-1 in Atlanta, the one loss being a 7-1 disaster in which current Devil Eric Boulton scored a hat trick against Jersey and ultimately led to John MacLean's firing).  The Jets have looked brilliant some nights and horrible on others.  Hey, I know another team that plays just like that!

    NOVEMBER 3rd, 2011: Devils 4, Flyers 3 (Shootout).  24 hours can change a lot (actually, it's 23 and a half hours...).  Yesterday, the Devils played sloppy, turned the puck over, blew coverage all over the place and couldn't generate any offense late in the game.  Tonight was the polar opposite.  They got into some early penalty trouble.  In my opinion, there were some weak calls against both teams, but nonetheless the Flyers had some chances to score early, and the Devils had none of it.  Johan Hedberg kept it scoreless through one.  The Flyers owned the early part of the second, but once it was 2-0 Philly, the Devils took over.  The top three lines all had scoring chance after scoring chance.  Bobrovsky probably wants the Parise goal back, Henrique tied it with a nice finish off of a Kovalchuk steal and then in the 3rd, Talbot scored on the penalty shot.  The Devils absolutely dominated the second half of that game, and they were rewarded.  The only real concern now is the health of Ilya Kovalchuk's "lower body" (groin) injury.

    As a fan, I'm a bit confused now.  Just as the Devils played a gem of a game in L.A. and looked flat in the games following that win, they looked awful last night and brilliant for much of tonight's game.  Which Devils will show up on Saturday and beyond?  I think Devils fans have to accept the fact that this team is going to be inconsistent.

    Final note for tonight: if Kovalchuk has to miss any period of time, Mattias Tedenby has to play alongside Parise and Henrique.  That line would work hard, use their speed and two of the three forwards (Parise and Henrique) are very strong defensively.  Even with Kovalchuk in the lineup, I'd go Kovy-Elias-Sykora and Clarkson-Zubrus-Palmieri as the third line, despite the strong play of Ryan Carter early in his Devils career.

    That's a wrap for tonight, let's hope the "good" Devils show up on Saturday.

    NOVEMBER 2nd, 2011: Leafs 5, Devils 3.  Well that game sucked.  I'm really disappointed with Parise of late.  He's supposedly 100% healthy, but he has just an unassisted goal that was essentially an empty netter in L.A. over his last 4 games.  He had just two shots tonight.  Kovalchuk looked slightly better.  He had 5 shots, and three of them were blasts on the power play.  He's headed in the right direction.  Other than that, I thought Mattias Tedenby was very good, Sykora looked pretty good, Clarkson played well, Henrique continues to show promise and Palmieri even had some chances.

    I guess Adam Larsson isn't the short-term "savior" to the Devils' blue line.  He's been good, not great of late, but the rest of the defense is just awful.  They're scared to hold the blue line or hit the puck-carrier.  Perhaps that's a result of a more aggressive forecheck and not always having a forward back in the play?  At this point, I would honestly rather see Mark Fraser get into a game over Bryce Salvador.  I'd rather see Taormina over Fayne, even though I've been calling for a right-handed D-man for years.  Yep, Adam Larsson is still here, guys.  Also, maybe someday in the next almost five seasons, Anton Volchenkov will score a goal as a Devil.

    Ugh.  Goaltending.  Martin Brodeur looked awful.  I'm trying to decide whether blaming Brodeur for the loss is using him as the scapegoat.  I mean, yes, he could have had the Grabovski goal and he probably should have had one of the Lupul goals, but if it's possible to say this, he looked better as the game went on.  I can honestly say that his save on Kessel ranks with the best he's ever made.  It was kind of like that save he made in Phily during his 500th win.  Still, my heart will be breathing ever-so-slightly better tomorrow night with Hedberg in goal against the Flyers.  The "bad" Flyers had better show up tomorrow, because I hate the "good" Flyers.

    Well, the Devils are 4-5-1, which quite honestly sucks.  The schedule hasn't been kind to the Devils, they're down two talented centers and the two top wingers have been dormant for much of the young season.  There's time to improve, but there need to be signs of improvement.  Why did this team play so well in L.A. and so poorly since then?  Why can't they show any consistency?