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Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth – Center

Anderson led all Albany centers in points and represented them at the AHL All-Star game. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink/Times Union

The New Jersey Devils stockpiled impressive depth up the middle. The team’s brimming with talent, and many players are ready to take the next step to the NHL.

Travis Zajac leads the brigade, firmly entrenched as the team’s top center. Patrik Elias, a converted left-winger, seems destined to finish his career as the team’s number two center. Jacob Josefson‘s solid rookie debut will undoubtedly lead to a roster spot next season. Rod Pelley will look to fend off Adam Henrique, Tim Sestito, and others for a spot on the roster.

That talent flows right down into Albany. Seven of Albany’s top ten scorers were centerman, an astounding number that shows the true talent in the position. Most won’t develop into first line scorers. But the depth is pretty amazing, and should provide the team with solid players for the future.

Albany Devils (AHL)

Matt Anderson – 76 GP, 55 points (23 G, 32 A), minus-3 rating

Anderson was an All-Star this season, netting a goal in the midseason showcase. He led all centers in every significant category despite never playing with a consistent line. In his three AHL seasons, Anderson improved his performance, posting a career high in points last season. Henrique will get the call first, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anderson get a look in the prospect camp this summer.

Adam Henrique – 73 GP, 50 points (25 G, 25 A), minus-3 rating

Henrique had one hell of a rookie season. While his 50 points aren’t overly impressive, he managed to produce offensively without a consistent line combination. His 25 goals are a rookie record. He shifted to left-wing for the second half of the season, which probably helped his numbers. His 50 points put him sixth among rookie scorers. He won’t need any more time in the AHL and should compete for a spot next season.

Steve Zalewksi – 81 GP, 44 points (15 G, 29 A), minus-8 rating

Zalewski came to the Devils organization in a February trade, where he found his game. He posted 11 goals and 17 assists in 31 games after the trade. He’s had a taste of the NHL, playing three games with the San Jose Sharks last season. He’s had AHL success, but never found a foothold. He seems destined to be AHL fodder who may get a few games here and there.

Stephen Gionta – 54 GP, 30 points (10 G, 20 A), plus-7 rating

Gionta gained fame for playing against his older brother, Brian, this season. Other than that, he didn’t do much with his NHL callup. He found some success in the AHL, collecting 30 points. He’ll never be a scorer and probably wouldn’t move past the fourth line on the NHL level. He provides good depth but isn’t the first choice for a roster spot next season.

Brad Mills – 53 GP, 24 points (15 G, 9 A), minus-2 rating

Mills made his NHL debut this season, scoring a game-winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in November. He’s a decent centerman, but nothing to write home about. His 24 points ranked pretty low, which is odd considering he anchored the team’s top line. Like Gionta, he’s a depth player at this point.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Rod Pelley

Pelley played mostly a defensive role this season, but did tie a career high with 10 points. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Rod Pelley.

For the past few years, the New Jersey Devils raved about the abilities of Rod Pelley. Several team officials believed he could become the next John Madden. Last year, after Madden left the team as an unrestricted free agent, he got his first shot at taking the defensive forward role. Jacques Lemaire wouldn’t play him full-time, so we never fully got to see his potential.

With a new coach this season, Pelley got his chance. He didn’t become an elite checking forward, but he made the most of his chance. For most of the season, Pelley anchored the team’s checking line. His numbers weren’t superb, but they weren’t overly terrible. He ended up proving what he was – a defensive forward who could be used on the team’s third line.

Pelley At Even Strength

As a third-liner, Pelley didn’t see much time on the ice. His time on ice per 60 of 10.24 was middle of the road, which is expected. He put up a negative player rating of minus-0.25, which also isn’t terrible considering his line. For someone who isn’t going to generate much offense (just 10 points this season), his rating will take a hit. It also suffered from his quality of teammates, which checked in at minus-0.317. When you’re constantly centering guys like Adam Mair, that’ll help drive down the rating.

As a third-liner, Pelley’s greatest impact should be defensively. A look at his numbers shows he had an almost neutral (and slightly negative) impact this season. When on the ice, teams scored 23 goals against, an average of 1.82 goals against per 60. He only generated 1.11 goals per 60, leading to a plus/minus on the ice of minus-0.71. It’s not a good number, because you never want any player with a negative plus/minus. Off the ice, however, the numbers increased. Teams averaged 2.51 goals against per 60, but also scored more (2.05 goals for per 60). That drove the plus/minus with Pelley off the ice down to minus-0.46, which seems like an improvement. But Pelley and his linemates aren’t goal scorers, which will obviously put him at a disadvantage in his on-ice plus/minus rating.

The shots against numbers paint a slightly negative picture. With Pelley on the ice, he held teams to 25.4 shots against per 60. With him off the ice, that number dipped to 23.5. That’s almost two full shots less. It’s not a huge number, but it shows he wasn’t the best defensive option on the team’s bench.

The Corsi numbers wraps up this section nicely. Pelley’s on-ice Corsi was a minus-7.92, one of the worst among forwards with at least 50 games played. Off the ice, that number improved to plus-7.06, almost a 180 degree turnaround.

Pelley On The Penalty Kill

Pelley’s numbers on the penalty-kill paint a similar picture to his five-on-five numbers. His time on ice of 1.38 put him within the top nine of the Devils penalty killers, putting him in the regular rotation. Like his even strength rating, Pelley turned in a negative rating of minus-1.36. It was one of the worst ratings among regular penalty killers, but a deeper look at the numbers could expose some flaws.

Penalty killing, of course, isn’t a one man show. Teammates sway the numbers heavily, and Pelley’s teammates didn’t help him one bit. His quality of teammates was minus-0.764, which ranked dead last. Teams scored 10 powerplay goals against Pelley last year, an average of 5.86 goals per 60. That gave Pelley an ugly plus/minus average of minus-5.86. The number improved with him off the ice, dipping to 4.93 goals against per 60 and a plus/minus rating of minus-4.50.These numbers make sense, as better combinations produced better results on the ice.

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Game 26 Live Game Blog: Penguins Lead Devils, 2-1, In Third Period

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

The Penguins lead the Devils, 2-1, in the third period of their game tonight at the CONSOL Energy Center.

Sidney Crosby almost scored his second goal of the night at 12:21 of the third period. Crosby sent a wrist shot over the glove of Johan Hedberg, put the puck hit the pipe and came out into the slot.

David Clarkson and Deryk Engelland dropped the gloves at 14:31 of the period. The scrap started because of a hit Clarkson put on Engelland in the Penguins zone. Engelland landed some solid right hooks, but Clarkson dragged the defenseman down to end the fight.

Hedberg stoned Kris Letang to hold the deficit at one. With Rod Pelley in the box for delay of game, Letang sprung free in New Jersey’s defensive zone. The defenseman drove the net and shot low into the pads. Hedberg made the save, then absorbed the hit from Letang when he crashed the crease.

The Penguins lead in shots, 27-18. Pittsburgh, already 0-for-4 with the man advantage tonight, will have 1:09 remaining on their fifth powerplay opportunity, a tripping minor to Dainius Zubrus, to begin the third period.

Travis Zajac nearly tied the game with 4:55 left in the middle period. Jamie Langenbrunner stripped former teammate Paul Martin in the neutral zone and joined Zajac for a 2-on-1 rush. The captain passed the puck to Zajac, who cut toward the front of the net. He moved across the crease, looking to backhand a shot past the blocker of Marc-Andre Fleury. Penguins defenseman Zybynek Michalek ended the chance, knocking the puck off Zajac’s stick.

Shortly after that, Fleury stoned a Dainius Zubrus attempt from the slot. The Devils’ center skated the puck into the slot and fired a shot glove side. Fleury gloved the attempt and held on for the whistle.

Crosby’s goal at 12:49 of the second period put the Penguins ahead, 2-1.

Alex Goligosky drove the net in the Devils zone, putting a shot on Hedberg. The Devils’ goalie blocked the initial shot, but a rebound caromed off his pads and to the left of goal. Crosby, who was all alone at the side of the net, went to one knee and hammered home the shot for his 24th goal of the season.

Crosby now has two points tonight (one goal, one assist). He’s been averaging two points per game during his 16-game point streak.

Colin White should take the blame for that goal. He left Crosby all alone to come to the front of the net. I don’t know if there was a breakdown in communication, but you don’t ever leave Crosby alone near your net.

I’m not sure what the ice conditions are like at the Penguins new arena, but it looks choppy here in the second period. Several pucks have bounced over sticks, and players from both teams are wiping out on the ice.

Pascal Dupuis had an opportunity for his second goal of the game only 33 seconds into the second period. White tried to shoot the puck off a faceoff in the Penguins zone, but the puck was blocked to the neutral zone. Dupuis raced ahead of the defense and broke in on a short breakaway. Hedberg came out to challenge, and turned away the scoring chance.

The Penguins outshot the Devils, 16-8, in that first period. Pittsburgh also had three powerplay opportunties, generating six shots. The Devils were able to kill off all three opportunities.

An early whistle cost the Devils a chance for a rebound opportunity with 25 seconds left in the period. The refs blew the play dead after it appeared Fleury stopped and held a shot. But the puck trickled behind the Penguins goalie and sat all alone in the crease.

Zubrus had a beautiful scoring opportunity denied with less than a minute left in the first period. The center caused a turnover in the Penguins zone and drove the net. He couldn’t keep the puck on his stick, and missed out on an opportunity to put a shot on net.

Dupuis’ goal at 15:41 of the first period pulled the Penguins even with the Devils, 1-1.

Crosby started the play in the neutral zone, kicking a loose puck from his back skate to the blade of his stick. The Penguins captain skated into the Devils zone along the side boards, and found Dupuis open in the middle of the Devils zone. Dupuis ripped a one-timer past Hedberg for his eighth goal of the year.

The assist stretched Crosby’s point streak to 16 games.

Brian Rolston’s powerplay goal at 14:20 of the first period put the Devils ahead, 1-0.

With Dupuis in the box for hooking, Mattias Tedenby curled behind the Penguins net with possession of the puck. He came up to the side boards and passed the puck to Jason Arnott, who was streaking into the zone. The center blasted a shot toward net that went wide right. The puck hit Rolston, and the left-winger corralled the loose puck and fired it home for his second goal of the season.

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Game 18 Recap: Thomas, Bruins Blank Devils, 3-0

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The New Jersey Devils traveled to Boston on Monday night, fresh off their first home win of the season. The Devils looked to beat the Bruins and uber-goalie Tim Thomas to start their first win streak of the season. The Bruins, however, wouldn’t allow the Devils the pleasure of winning on their home ice. Boston scored once each period and defeated the Devils, 3-0.

David Clarkson couldn't bury this chance as Tim Thomas made life difficult for the right-winger. Thomas stopped 27 shots en route to his fourth shutout of the season. Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Tim Thomas Stones The Devils

Entering tonight’s game, Thomas carried impressive season statistics. In ten games, the Bruins goalie was 8-1-0 with a 1.45 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage. And while he carried rather pedestrian numbers against the Devils (5-5-0-3, 2.43 GAA, .920 save %), Thomas played stellar hockey tonight. It was two desperation saves that kept the game scoreless in the opening minute and ultimately affected the tone of the game.

The Devils generated two great scoring chances only 40 seconds into the opening period. Patrik Elias broke in on a 2-on-1 with Mattias Tedenby, and held the puck as he cut across the slot. Thomas came out of the net, and Elias looked to have a wide-open chance. But Thomas kicked out the pad to make a save, and stoned Tedenby with the back of his knee on a rebound attempt.

If the Devils score, this game may have ended differently. But a hot goaltender will get lucky, and Thomas made one lucky save to keep his team even early. Thomas stopped 27 shots en route to his league-leading fourth shutout of the season.

“It’s unfortunate,” Devils coach John MacLean said. “We had a chance there early, but we couldn’t bury our chances. They got some chances and put them in. Our stars didn’t bury their chances.”

Checking In To The Sin Bin

The Devils spent 19 minutes in the penalty box tonight, and it seemed like the constant whistles helped stymie whatever momentum the Devils generated. Within those 19 minutes, the Devils faced a 5-on-3 and a double minor. With all those minutes in the box, the Bruins got several advantages, and Michael Ryder took full advantage to score the game-winning goal.

Matt Corrente and Adam Mair took penalties in the first period to give the Bruins a 5-on-3 opportunity. With both players in the box, Ryder received a pass from Patrice Bergeron near the goal line. The right-winger held the puck and fired a shot on Martin Brodeur. The puck snuck through a gap between the Devils goalie and the near post for Ryder’s sixth goal of the year.

The refs didn’t make the best of calls tonight, but the Devils should have found ways to avoid the box tonight. They couldn’t, and it severely hampered any offense they tried to muster.

Blake Wheeler scored 43 seconds into the third period to stretch the Bruins lead to 3-0. Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

These Bruins Are Lightning Quick

The Bruins struck quickly against Brodeur, opening the second and third periods with first minute goals to bury the Devils.

Nathan Horton scored 43 seconds into the third period to put the Bruins ahead, 2-0. Milan Lucic carried the puck into the neutral zone, and passed cross-ice to Horton. The right-winger carried the puck across the line and let go a wrist shot near the top of the circle. The puck beat Brodeur stick side for Horton’s eighth goal of the season.

In a bit of deja vu, Blake Wheeler scored 43 seconds into the third period to extend the Bruins lead to 3-0. With Henrik Tallinder pinching down the boards in the offensive zone, Mark Recchi created a turnover near the blue line. The veteran left-winger carried the puck through the neutral zone and fed Wheeler near the Devils’ blue line. Wheeler carried it to the circle and fired a wrist shot toward the net. The puck glanced off of Colin White’s stick and through the legs of Brodeur for Wheeler’s fourth goal of the season.

Continue reading for the rest of the recap!

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Game 18 Live Game Blog: Wheeler’s Goal Extends Bruins Lead To 3-0 In Third Period

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Blake Wheeler’s goal at 43 seconds of the third period extended the Bruins lead to 3-0 in the third period of their game tonight at the TD Garden.

With Henrik Tallinder pinching down the boards, Mark Recchi created a turnover near the blue line. The veteran left-winger carried the puck through the neutral zone and fed Wheeler near the Devils’ blue line. Wheeler carried it to the circle and fired a wrist shot toward the net. The puck glanced off of Colin White’s stick and through the legs of Martin Brodeur for Wheeler’s fourth goal of the season.

The Bruins and Devils each put seven shots on net in the second period. Through two periods, the Bruins lead in shots, 17-14.

Nathan Horton’s goal at 43 seconds of the second period put the Bruins ahead, 2-0.

Milan Lucic carried the puck into the neutral zone, and passed cross-ice to Horton. The right-winger carried the puck across the line and let go a wrist shot near the top of the circle. The puck beat Brodeur stick side for Horton’s eighth goal of the season.

There was a delay midway through the second period as the crew at TD Bank fixed broken glass.

The Devils penalty killers have been busy tonight. In the first period, they faced a 5-on-3 chance, in which they allowed a goal. But down 2-0, the P.K. players killed off a four-minute double minor to Mattias Tedenby for high sticking.

The Bruins led the period in shots, 10-7.

Michael Ryder’s powerplay tally at 15:26 of the first period put the Bruins ahead, 1-0.

With both Matt Corrente and Adam Mair in the box, Ryder received a pass from Patrice Bergeron near the goal line. The right-winger held the puck and fired a shot on Brodeur. The puck snuck through a gap between the Devils goalie and the near post for Ryder’s sixth goal of the year.

Both teams have had excellent scoring chances throughout the first few minutes of play. Patrik Elias gave the Devils a great opportunity within the first minute of play. Breaking in on a 2-on-1, Elias held the puck and cut across the slot. Tim Thomas came out of the net, and Elias looked to have a wide-open chance. But Thomas kicked out the pad to make a save, and stoned Mattias Tedenby with the back of his knee on a rebound attempt.

Brodeur made his own great save, using a poke check to deny Daniel Paille on a breakaway opportunity.

While Paille broke in alone on Brodeur, Rod Pelley and Adam McQuaid dropped the gloves near center ice. Though Pelley dropped McQuaid immediately, the Bruins rookie got up and made it an even fight. Eventually Pelley dropped McQuaid to the ice for the win.

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Here were the starting lineups:

DEVILS

Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Mattias Tedenby; Colin White – Matt Taormina; Martin Brodeur

BRUINS

Jordan Caron – Blake Wheeler – Mark Recchi; Dennis Seidenberg – Mark Stuart; Tim Thomas

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The New Jersey Devils (5-10-2) travel to Boston to face off against the Boston Bruins (8-5-1) at TD Garden in Boston.

The Devils are looking to put together their first win streak of the season. After a win, New Jersey is 0-4-0 and has been outscored, 15-4.

Captain Jamie Langenbrunner and rookie defenseman Matt Taormina will miss tonight’s game with injuries. Both players had a MRI taken Monday, but won’t know the results until tomorrow.

Matt Corrente will step in for the injured Taormia. The rookie defenseman missed seven games with a non-displaced fracture of his right hand.

Martin Brodeur starts in net for the Devils. Tim Thomas will get the start for the Bruins.

Here were the line combinations during pre-game warmups:

FORWARDS: Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Alexander Vasyunov; Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Mattias Tedenby; Brian Rolston – Dainius Zubrus – David Clarkson; Rod Pelley – Adam Mair – Stephen Gionta

DEFENSEMEN: Colin White – Henrik Tallinder; Andy Greene – Anton Volchenkov; Olivier Magnan – Matt Corrente

GOALIE: Martin Brodeur

Patience With Pelley Pays Off

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Coming into this season, the Devils faced some major question marks with the young players in camp. One of the biggest mysteries was Rod Pelley, who failed to impress both Brent Sutter and Jacques Lemaire.

But under John MacLean, Pelley has flourished into a “John Madden“-esque role, providing the lineup with a solid defensive forward.

With a little trust, Pelley has developed into the next John Madden. Photo Credit: Rich Lam/Getty Images

The Devils signed Pelley as an undrafted free agent in 2006, after the center finished playing for Ohio State University. Coming out of Ohio State, Pelley was expected to be an offensive center. As one scouting report read:

Pelley is a tough, hard-hitting forward who excels in the faceoff circle. He plays with an edge and is fiercly competitive. Pelley’s skating ability combines power with good speed and quickness. He is strong on skates and is tough to move off of the puck. He has great on-ice vision and hockey sense. He anticipates were plays are going quite well too.

One of Pelley’s best attributes is his cannon-like shot. He’s a player who also loves to shoot and has a superb wrist shot. He has a real nose for the net and is willing to pay a price in high traffic areas to make the plays.

Pelley caught fire with the Lowell Devils, scoring 17 goals and leading all rookie skaters with 29 points. That play earned Pelley a NHL callup, and he dressed for nine games, failing to record a point. He stuck with the Devils in 2007-08, playing 58 games. Pelley recorded six points and 19 penalty minutes, but didn’t impress Brent Sutter enough to stick with the club for the entire season. After those 58 games, Pelley was sent down to the AHL, where he remained from the end of 2007 until the 2009-10 season.

Lemaire gave Pelley another shot last season, and the center stayed with the team the entire season. Pelley dressed for 63 games, recording 10 points and 40 penalty minutes. But Pelley couldn’t break the fourth line role, and he never earned the type of penalty kill time to prove his worth.

Instead of just sticking Pelley on the fourth line, current coach John MacLean used the center in different situations. He put Pelley on the penalty kill, increasing his responsibilities. Not only did Pelley step up to the challenge, he excelled at it. His good play (and injuries) brought him the opportunity, and Pelley took full advantage. He’s moved up to the center the second or third line, and MacLean turned to him in several key situations.

Pelley won’t score goals or create any highlight reel plays. But he’s been a solid producer for the Devils this season, and one of the only constants in the lineup. MacLean finally gave Pelley an opportunity, and we’ve seen him excel. Pelley is finally fulfilling the “John Madden” role on this team. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello continually praised Pelley, and the patience and faith shown has finally paid off.

Devils Need Immediate Improvement After Abysmal Start

October 29, 2010 2 comments

Several NHL coaches believe in breaking the season down into 10 game segments and evaluate the team within that window.

What could John MacLean take from the first 10 games this season? Little to nothing. The Devils need to wipe the slate clean and start over in their next 10 games. In order to start from scratch, the team needs to identify the root of their issues.

There’s clearly a myriad of problems, but I believe these are the main culprits behind the Devils 2-7-1 start this season:

1. Consistency

While it’s a broad topic, consistency covers a vast amount of the issues with the Devils. The first place inconsistency occurred through the first ten games was on the ice. In the Devils two shutout wins, the team gave complete, 60-minute efforts. But in their eight losses this season, the Devils went through stretches of bad play, where they lacked creativity, execution and hustle. It’s the reason why they’ve allowed five-plus goals in three of their ten games.

No where has this been more evident than the second period of games. Through 10 games, the Devils have been outscored 18-4 in the second period of games. The Devils will bring energy in the first and third periods, but the team’s play significantly decreases during the middle period. There have been some exceptions, but the team can’t afford to be that inconsistent in one period of a game.

The inconsistency also occurs throughout the Devils’ locker room. Players say the right things, citing the need to work harder, create chemistry, etc. It’s all lip service until it’s seen on the ice, and so far, the players struggled to translate their talk to on-ice success. Combined with the on-ice consistency, the erratic play is causing frustration throughout the locker room and coaching staff.

What can the Devils do to fix their consistency issues? It seems like a no-brainer to me – focus on the ice. Don’t take a shift off. Keep up the intensity. These aren’t hard things to accomplish. The players need to play with a purpose. There’s been too many times when the Devils stand around or glide rather than skate hard. When the team plays consistently good hockey, the results are great. For some reason, the Devils’ players take shifts, periods and even games off. Instead of playing like a two win team, they’re acting like an undefeated squad who can afford a few nights off. Giving a consistent effort will lead to better performances and, hopefully, more wins.

2. The System

The Devils don’t have the proper players for whatever “system” MacLean attempted to install during training camp. The defensemen haven’t moved the puck well, and the scorers look lost on the ice. MacLean wanted to install a puck-possession mentality, but the Devils simply can’t play that style of hockey right now. The team looks lost in the system.

MacLean needs to realize this and change it accordingly. Yesterday’s successful powerplay conversion showed the importance of tailoring the system to the players. Instead of fancy passing and holding on to the puck to long, the Devils fired a shot on net and crashed it, looking for rebounds. Surprise, surprise, the play led to a goal. MacLean had ten games to tinker with his offensive system, and it failed. The team needs to return to the “Devils” game – solid defensive hockey, capitalizing on opportunities, slowly squeezing the life out of an opponent. It’s not interesting or exciting, but that’s not what the Devils need right now. They need wins.

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