Evaluating The Devils – Games 21-30
During the Devils last ten games, the team showed sustained flashes of potential. They began hot, winning three of the first four games. But they couldn’t continue that success, returning to their inconsistent form. New Jersey suffered through a five-game losing streak, and increased their road losing streak to seven games.
It wasn’t all bad news. Some players began to improve, and the Devils welcomed two starters back into the lineup. While it wasn’t a stretch to brag about, it showed the ability this lineup possesses.
Here are some of the major story lines from games 21-30:
1. Bringing Power to the Powerplay
Over the first 20 games of the season, the Devils powerplay went 6-for-59, an abysmal 10% success rate. In the last recap I called the special team’s laughable and lacking creativity. In the past ten games, assistant coach Adam Oates proved me wrong.
Over their past five games, the Devils are 7-for-20 with the man advantage. That’s 35%, and a marked improvement from the previous play. The Devils’ players are making the right decisions with the puck. They’re more decisive and willing to set an offensive play. Even when it doesn’t score, New Jersey’s power play boosts the offense. Patrik Elias grew into the role of “powerplay quarterback,” dictating play on ice and producing with the man advantage. He’s recorded three powerplay points in the past five games. Elias’ play displays the powerplay turnaround.
The Devils might not always score, but it’s an actual threat. For the past few seasons, that element has never presented itself. Hopefully, the team continues its strong play.
2. A Certain Left-Winger Heats Up
Elias isn’t the only scorer heating up. Ilya Kovalchuk, whose struggles are well documented, began to find his stride during the latter part of these ten games. He’s collected five points in the past five games, including two multi-point contests. Last night against Phoenix, Kovalchuk recorded his first two-goal game as a Devil. In the past ten games, Kovalchuk collected six points (three goals, three assists).
The numbers aren’t terribly impressive, but they hopefully represent a turnaround. Kovalchuk didn’t sign a 15-year, $100 million contract to be a defensive forward. The team expects him to score. The past ten games saw Kovalchuk take more shots and become more aggressive. That’s what he needs to do, and he’s reaping the rewards. If Kovalchuk can extend this streak, he’ll start collecting points in a hurry. Hopefully that’ll lead to some wins for the Devils.
3. Finally, Some Healthy Players
The Devils injury issues are well documented. They’ve lost the service of several great players, including Zach Parise. The past ten games saw a reverse trend. Instead of losing players, the Devils finally gained players back.
Martin Brodeur was the first to return. The future Hall-of-Famer missed three weeks to rest his injured elbow. He returned December 10 in a 3-1 loss to the Senators. Even though the results weren’t there, Broduer looked solid in his past three games. It’s always a boost to get an injured player back. It’s a major boost when that player is Brodeur.
The Devils’ also welcomed back defenseman Anssi Salmela. Salmela, who tore his anterior crucial ligament during the summer, made his season debut last night against the Phoenix Coyotes. He didn’t do anything significant, but his return gives the Devils a veteran presence along the blue line. Salmela also brings offensive abilities to the blueline, something the Devils’ have sorely missed.
For more of the recap, read after the jump!
4. The Inconsistency Continues
Everything wasn’t great for the Devils. The team continued their inconsistent play, and it could cost them a shot at the playoffs.
The first four games gave the Devils hope. The team finally put together a winning streak, beating the Washington Capitals (5-0) and Calgary Flames (2-1, SO). New Jersey turned in a clunker against the New York Islanders (2-0), but bounced back to beat the Philadelphia Flyers (2-1 SO). With a four day break before their next game, the Devils finally seemed to find their footing.
The calendar changed to December, and the Devils took two steps backward. A 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens began a five-game losing streak. Opponents outscored the Devils 19-8 during the streak. New Jersey didn’t help themselves, playing inconsistent games. One period they’d attack the other team, but they’d sit back for the rest of the game. The effort made everyone want to pull their hair out.
The Devils ended this segment with a 3-0 shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes. I hesitate to call the win a “turnaround game”, but the Devils will need to build off the win.
The Devils went 4-6-0 in the last ten games. It’s a better segment, but not what anyone expects. To become relevant, the Devils need to post better ten-game segments. Continually playing sub-.500 hockey won’t get this team anywhere. Consistently failing to meet expectations will carry consequences.
We’ve already seen those consequences take shape. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello placed Brian Rolston on waivers this week, signaling that no player was safe. Rolston cleared waivers and played for the Devils last night, but the message was clear – if players didn’t produce, they wouldn’t be there. It’s a message captain Jamie Langenbrunner expected the team to already know.
“Have we been put on notice?” Langenbrunner said to Gulitti. “I would hope we’re already on notice with what’s going on.”
The Devils played better during this ten-game stretch. They showed a sense of urgency. The problem was when the urgency showed up. Inconsistency cost this team at least two games. That’s four all-important points left on the table. New Jersey doesn’t have that luxury over their next ten games. Points are at a premium, and the Devils need points.
The next ten games won’t be easy for New Jersey. Their opponents are a combined 137-108-38, and five of the nine teams are within the top eight of their conference. It’s an opportunity for the Devils to make up lost ground. But the effort will need to be consistent. These are the teams who will make the Devils pay for mistakes and lax play. Consistent efforts can lead to wins, and the Devils need to put together a win streak to get back in the playoff hunt.
The Devils next ten games:
Nashville Predators vs. Devils – December 17
Devils vs. Atlanta Thrasers – December 18
Devils vs. Washington Capitals – December 21
New York Islanders vs. Devils – December 23
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Devils – December 26
New York Rangers vs. Devils – December 29
Atlanta Thrashers vs. Devils – December 31
Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes – January 1, 2011
Minnesota Wild vs. Devils – January 4, 2011
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Devils – January 6, 2011