Archive for January, 2011

Devils At The Break: Elias Returns To All-Star Form

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Patrik Elias played in his third All Star game yesterday, scoring a goal in the loss. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This will be a regular feature during the Devils’ five game All-Star break. In this feature, we’ll look at overall team news, discuss individual player performances, and give expectations for the second half of the season. You can find all these articles under the “Devils At The Break” category located on the sidebar.

It’s been a rough few years for Patrik Elias.

The franchise leader in points, Elias hasn’t been the healthiest skater the past few seasons. Various injuries sidelined the left-winger, but last season was particularly troubling. He missed several games with after undergoing surgery to repair a hernia. Then, as he was beginning to contribute to the team, he sustained a concussion and missed several other games.

Heading into the season, expectations were high for the entire offense. Teamed with Jason Arnott, fans and analysts figured Elias would record better numbers.

But no one envisioned this.

At the All-Star break, Elias is the Devils’ best scorer. His 37 points leads the team, and he’s second with 13 goals. He leads the team in game-winning goals (4), and his powerplay production (seven points) also tops the team. But it’s not only his offense that’s improved.

Elias became the unquestioned leader of the team this season. A former captain, Elias never shied away from tough questions. He provided the media with honest answers and called out teammates for subpar play. Even without wearing the “C”, there was never a question about who led the Devils. With Jamie Langenbrunner traded, I argued the team should appoint Elias captain.

Without the puck, Elias still poses a threat to opposing teams. He’s become one of the main “quarterbacks” on the Devils’ powerplay, controlling all the play along the side boards. While its stalled lately, he’s helped improve the powerplay. He remains one of the best penalty killers on the roster as well.

Everything about Elias’ game improved this season. With the puck, he’s creating more opportunities to score. It’s a skill that’s been lacking for the past few seasons. With the increase in shots, Elias is creating more opportunities to score. And, unlike several of his teammates, his shots are finding the back of the net.

Elias took a backseat to other big names on the Devils’ roster during training camp. But as the season progressed, he rose to the top. This might not be Elias’ best statistical season, but he’s proven he’s finally healthy and ready to return to form.

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Devils At The Break: The Zach Attack Takes A Seat

January 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Zach Parise has missed almost the entire season with a torn meniscus. Photo Credit: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

This will be a regular feature during the Devils’ five game All-Star break. In this feature, we’ll look at overall team news, discuss individual player performances, and give expectations for the second half of the season. You can find all these articles under the “Devils At The Break” category located on the sidebar.

For the past few seasons, the New Jersey Devils dealt with significant injuries.

Two years ago, Martin Brodeur missed almost thirty games after an elbow injury. Last season, several players missed significant time, including Patrik Elias and Paul Martin. Despite those injuries, the Devils found players who could plug the holes.

An injury to Zach Parise, however, wasn’t an easy fix.

Parise, who left the ice in a game against the Los Angeles Kings on October 30, sustained a torn meniscus and will probably not return this season. For a player in a contract year, it was a blow to his bargaining power. His loss also hurt the team, eliminating one of their biggest offensive weapons.

Something wasn’t right with Parise at the beginning of the season. The Devils’ left-winger lacked that extra gear on the ice. Many attributed it to conditioning, but there was a deeper secret – Parise only had one good knee. His other, which he hurt during summer conditioning, hampered his play. Parise played on it, believing it could improve over time.

It wouldn’t. The knee continued to hamper Parise, and his play reflected it. In 12 games, he recorded only six points (three goals, three assists). The knee problem constantly plagued him, and it all came to a head during that Kings game. After a harmless check as center ice, Parise hobbled over to the bench and sat doubled-over in pain.

Parise's presence in the owners box has been an unfortunate sight for Devils' fans. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since then, the void in the Devils lineup has been noticeable. The first line isn’t nearly as effective and lacks Parise’s creativity and shot. A pure goal scorer, the team lacks his quick-strike ability. And while the offense has improved, Parise would make them that much better.

The biggest player impacted from the injury was Travis Zajac. Zajac and Parise knew how each other played, and they could make amazing plays on the ice. With teams focusing on Parise, Zajac became a good first-line center. Last season, Zajac posted career highs in goals (25) and points (67). Without Parise, though, Zajac hasn’t found his offensive rhythm. Through 49 games, he only has 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists).

Parise’s injury continues to reverberate throughout the entire lineup. With impending restricted free agency looming, the organization needs to make a decision on Parise. The injury is the first major injury of Parise’s young career. But it will come into the negotiations.

After so many productive years, the Zach Attack disappeared for the season. His absence still affects the lineup, and has been one of the biggest disappointments of the Devils first half of the season.

Devils At The Break: The Failures Of Ilya Kovalchuk

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Ilya Kovalchuk failed to live up to the expectations of his 15-year, $100 million contract during the first half of the season. Photo Credit: Jenniffer Brown/The Star-Ledger

This will be a regular feature during the Devils’ five game All-Star break. In this feature, we’ll look at overall team news, discuss individual player performances, and give expectations for the second half of the season. You can find all these articles under the “Devils At The Break” category located on the sidebar.

It’s been a tough start to Ilya Kovalchuk‘s 15-year, $100 million contract with the New Jersey Devils.

Kovalchuk, the crowning jewel of the Devils’ offseason, has yet to produce Kovalchukian numbers. His goal scoring, once great, seems to disappear. His creativity was stymied by opposing defenses every game. His defensive effort slipped. Worse, he was a healthy scratch for being late to a meeting.

With Jacques Lemaire behind the bench, Kovalchuk improved dramatically. But even with his improvement, the first half has been one of both frustration and disappointment for Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk’s season began ominously during the summer, when his contract created a two month mini-drama. On July 19, New Jersey announced it signed Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102 million contract. The deal, the longest in NHL history, faced several challenges. While the players association approved the deal, the league rejected the deal because of cap circumvention. That kicked off a summer of arbitration hearings, contract negotiations and rampant rumors. Eventually, the contract passed, but not without amendments from the league and various fines for the Devils.

With “The Kovalchuk Saga” over, the team could finally focus on working Kovalchuk into the offense. Head coach John MacLean decided to stack his first line and move Kovalchuk to the right-wing. The possibility of complete offensive dominance raced through the minds of fans and analysts. The combination seemed to work, as the line opened the season with two goals against the Dallas Stars. That, however, would be the height of their success.

As the season wore on, Kovalchuk shifted around the entire lineup. His offense was nowhere to be found, and MacLean attempted to jump start him by any means. Kovalchuk played with every line, often double-shifted. But his goal production continued to spiral downward. It all culminated in one of the most disappointing moments of the season, during a shootout:

That failed attempt summarized Kovalchuk’s struggles in a singular moment. One of the most talented scorers no longer had confidence in himself.

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Devils At The Break: The End Of The Streak

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the only times this year we saw John MacLean smile. Photo Credit: Andy Marlin/Getty Images

This will be a regular feature during the Devils’ five game All-Star break. In this feature, we’ll look at overall team news, discuss individual player performances, and give expectations for the second half of the season. You can find all these articles under the “Devils At The Break” category located on the sidebar.

The New Jersey Devils made playoff appearances commonplace during the past 13 seasons. This season, however, ushered in a new era, one where fans and players probably won’t see New Jersey in the playoffs.

The Devils, mired in last place, will need a Herculean effort to even position themselves for the playoffs. In their remaining 33 games, New Jersey must go nearly perfect to gain enough points to contend. They’d also need a tremendous amount of help from other contending teams. This perfect storm, unfortunately, won’t occur.

So now, the fans, players and organization enter the post All-Star break as – gasp – sellers. It’s an unknown feeling, one which could determine the direction of the organization for the next few seasons. For many fans, however, the shock and disappointment of this unknown time are over.

The Devils, as we all know, opened this season with great expectations. The offense looked stacked, Martin Brodeur returned to his Vezina ways just a season ago, and new coach John MacLean promised a fresh, up-tempo attack. If only the games were played on paper.

New Jersey’s “super team” fell flat on its face. The offense fell flat, the defense looked miserable and their goaltending was atrocious. Injuries also piled up, shelving important players like Zach Parise, Bryce Salvador and Brian Rolston.

Through it all, MacLean couldn’t resuscitate his team. Players seemed to quit after goals, and no changes worked. Eventually, with a 9-22-2 record, Lou Lamoriello decided to fire MacLean. Lamoriello, known to take control of teams, entrusted former coach Jacques Lemaire to turn his team around.

Lemaire’s time as coach began as MacLean’s ended. In his first three games – all losses – the Devils were outscored 17-3. Even after starting 1-7-0, Lemaire continued to adamantly argue this squad had talent. Then, the Devils started winning. Eventually, they put together a four-game win streak and finished for the All-Star break on a 6-1-1 run.

The recent success won’t bring the Devils to the playoffs, but it shows a return to Devils’ hockey. The team defense is better, the offense scores goals, and it seems Brodeur found his stride. Lemaire re-built a solid foundation within this organization, and the players now have a system that works.

The post All-Star break won’t be fun for the Devils. Their 13-year playoff streak, second to only Detroit’s current 19 season run, will come to an end. Players will be moved, the team will lose, and pride will be the motivation for several players. It’s not the situation many expected for this franchise. But if the past eight games show anything, the Devils won’t go down without a fight.

Hockey’s Need For Better Helmets

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Bryce Salvador, pictured here in 2008 after being hit with a puck, has missed the entire season with a concussion sustained during the preseason. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The rate of NHL players sustaining concussions continues to grow, and the dangerous injury has already claimed several key players. Sidney Crosby hasn’t played in eight straight games. Bryce Salvador has yet to play this season. Marc Savard may have had his career ended with his second concussion in as many seasons.

While analysts debate the need to eliminate all hits to the head, there needs to be an improvement in player’s helmets. While improvements wouldn’t completely solve the issue, improved equipment can possibly soften blows to the head.

Hockey helmets aren’t a piece of complex equipment. The shell of the helmet consists of vinyl nitrile, which helps disperse force from points of contact. The inner shell consists of either the vinyl nitrile or expanded polypropylene foam, which absorbs shock to reduce the chances of concussions. And while those sound all well and good, the helmets aren’t the best. I recently had a two-year old helmet crack straight down the middle while playing a beer league hockey game. There aren’t the most in-shape guys playing in that league, yet the helmet still failed. Luckily I don’t have a concussion, but it shows that their not the most effective piece of equipment.

Unlike most pieces of equipment, helmets are meant to absorb repeated blows night in and night out. Players can replace shin pads, hip protectors, etc. But helmets aren’t usually replaceable. Why, then, wouldn’t they be better designed? The challenge, of course, is creating something without making it overly clunky, etc. Therein lies the problem – how can equipment be safer while still feasible to use?

Any improvement in equipment already has a template to work from. Football, which has its fair share of concusssion issues, continues to develop new helmet technology. One of these, the Xenith X1, uses 18 plastic pieces, shaped like hockey pucks, inside the helmet. Air is forced from these pieces until it’s completely flat. Then, the pieces immediately re-inflate, ready for the next impact.

Is this helmet the best? Maybe not. But it’s a prototype, and it shows progress. Players are faster and stronger than ever before. Hits are more violent, and while other pieces of equipment improved, helmets lag behind. New helmet technology may not eliminate all concussions. But it could be a major piece in the fight to eliminate these injuries from the game.


For complete coverage of tonight’s Detroit Red Wings – New Jersey Devils game, visit SB Nation New York.

Prospect Talk With Hockey Future’s Jared Ramsden

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Admittedly, one of my weaker points of hockey knowledge is the prospect pool. With so many players in several countries, I haven’t had the time to catch up on the big names and the late-round steals.

Thankfully, Jared Ramsden does this all the time. Ramsden writes for Hockey’s Future, specifically covering the New Jersey Devils. He found some time to answer a few questions I sent him about the Devils’ prospects and this year’s draft. Here is the interview:

Nick Palmieri has three goals in nine games this season. Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP Photo

1. We’ve seen players like Nick Palmieri, Mattias Tedenby, and Mark Fayne have an impact this season. What can we expect to see from these rookies as they continue their development?

Tedenby has obviously shown flashes of what he can bring to the table, and now that Lemaire seems to be satisfied with his understanding of his system and the defensive zone, it’s going to be pretty hard to keep him out of the line-up. He’s supremely skilled and very confident with the puck on his stick, What also stands out for me is that for a guy of his stature, he is very strong on the puck. He has the makings of a 25-30 goal scorer.
It’s a little harder to get a read on Palmieri, but I think the team has high hopes for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a little more time in the AHL this year. However, he’s really close to breaking through and sticking. He brings a different dimension than a lot of the other prospects do, in that he has power-forward potential. It might take a little longer for his development to reach full bloom, but he’s on the right path.
Fayne obviously has been somewhat of a surprise this year given that it is his first year as a pro. While he hasn’t been a stand-out and had some up’s and down’s, he’s played quite well for a guy that was playing in the NCAA last year. His upside isn’t that of a Jon Merrill or Alexander Urbom, but he’s a big kid who can skate well and he might be a prefect fit to have on the third pairing. He still has a little bit of learning to do, but he’s a guy that is likely going to get more and more confident each and every game.

After sitting for nine straight games, Tedenby has found himself back in the lineup. Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP Photo

2. How do you project Tedenby to develop? Could he become the next Zach Parise?
I’m not sure if he’s going to reach the status of Parise (35-40 goals, 80-90 points), but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the team and fans alike to see him scoring 25-30 goals, 60-65 points on a fairly regular basis once he’s fully developed. He is blessed with so much natural skill, and what’s he’s shown briefly this season, is only going to magnify once he matures and gets more confident.
3. The Devils have replenished the system a bit in the past few years, but how is the overall health of the Devils’ system. Where is the organization weakest/strongest?
The health of the Devils system is vastly improved from years past, and what we are seeing now is the first wave of prospects coming from the AHL. More than half of the prospects in the system are either in their first or second years of pro hockey, and are getting to the point where the team knows what they have in certain players and if they are going to be part of the future or not. Guys like Tedenby, Vladimir Zharkov, Palmieri, Fayne and Corrente are getting chances to strut their stuff right now, and guys like Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, David McIntyre, Alexander Vasyunov and Urbom are right behind them.
The team could definitely use a little more top end talent at any position, and they may just get a chance to address that this year if they end up drafting in the top 5, which at this point is very likely. The goaltending depth is defintiely a weak point, but with the addition of Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont last draft, this is an area that is starting to be addressed and will be continued to be addressed over the course of the next two-three years.

A Devil Of A Season Finally Going Right

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

The lightbulb seems to have clicked for the New Jersey Devils.

In their past four games, the Devils are 3-0-1, capturing seven out of a possible eight points. They’ve scored 18 goals in that span, suddenly finding the goal in bunches. They’ve also only allowed opponents 10 goals against, a testament to the improved defense.

Individuals have also played better. Ilya Kovalchuk netted five goals in his last nine games. Martin Brodeur‘s play is drastically improved. Even rookies Nick Palmieri and Mattias Tedenby have provided secondary scoring.

All of these things contribute to the Devils’ recent surge. While it probably will not lead to a playoff berth, it’s a sign that this team wasn’t the dumpster fire we thought it was. With several factors contributing to the team’s success, I’d like to give each one an individual look.

Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk have found recent offensive success. That means Lemaire will split them in the next few games. Photo Credit: Chris O'Meara/AP Photo

1. Finally, some offense!

The Devils’ offense this season has been terrible. With scorers like Kovalchuk, Jason Arnott and Zach Parise struggling, the Devils sputtered out of the gate. In their first 45 games, New Jersey has recorded one goal or less in 22 of them. That’s almost half a season’s worth of offensive futility.

The past four games has showcased the scoring expected from this roster. The Devils are scoring in every situation, and while the powerplay is scuffling, the offense looks better. Players are creating scoring chances and settling into their roles. Linemates are adjusting to each other and developing chemistry, an important part of creating any successful offense.

Kovalchuk credited his increased scoring to his chemistry with Travis Zajac.

“Before that, I got some chances, but they just didn’t go in,” Kovalchuk said to Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “Now, overall we’re playing better. That is why. My linemates they create way more room for me and it looks like it’s clicking. We’ve got a lot of opportunities and we scored some goals.”

Of course, if those lines fail, head coach Jacques Lemaire will change them without question. Hopefully he keeps these lines, because they’ve proved they can work.

2. Lemaire’s Return

When Lemaire left last season, most Devils’ fans were shoving him out the door. We were tired of the constant line juggling, fractured locker room and poor play. The abysmal playoff series last year only fueled the dislike for the coach.

The hiring of John MacLean brought optimism and a promise of a reinvigorated offense. All that optimism disappeared with the Devils’ struggles. To bring this team back, Lou Lamoriello turned to Lemaire, and his interim stint has brought a confidence and swagger back to New Jersey.

Zajac believed that, since Lemaire took over, the team’s play dramatically improved.

“I don’t know if it’s anything different,” the Devils’ center told Gulitti. “I think our system play is a little better 5-on-5. We’re playing more as a five-man unit, defensively, offensively and started scoring some goals, so we’re getting some confidence. You’re starting to see guys getting excited now scoring and going to the tough areas. When you have that confidence and it’s fun playing and you want to score goals and you’re going to win more games. Obviously we have nothing to lose, so we’re just playing right now.”

Lemaire believes a simple shift in play helped the team improve.

“The guys are playing hard,” Lemaire said to Gulitti. “The guys are playing together. They believe they can do it a little more. They’re skating and they want to succeed.”

Lemaire has free reign of the team, since he’s only the interim coach. But he’s instilled confidence in his players and brought the Devils out of the doldrums. They won’t make the playoffs, but at least they are respectable.

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