Back in the year 2000, then-Devils coach Larry Robinson came into the locker room, hot-headed and pissed off with the way his team played. The Devils, down 3-1 to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, were one step away from elimination. Wanting to make his point known, Robinson kicked a garbage can across the locker room, hammering home his point that the Devils were better than their played showed. That moment became a famous one in Devils history, as the team turned its play around and won three straight, becoming the first team since the NHL expanded to come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Ten years later, the Devils face the same situation. The Flyers are leading the series, 3-1, and the Devils have been outplayed in three of the four contests. Coming into tonight, the team needs to find a spark. That may have come from general manager Lou Lamoriello.
According to Star-Ledger reporter Steve Politi, Lamoriello went down to the visiting locker room after the Devils’ uninspiring 4-1 loss Tuesday night. The general manager, angry at his teams play, lit into the coaching staff. He got so angry, he picked up a jar of jelly and threw it at the wall. The jelly jar smashed, with its contents covering the locker room. While none of the players were in the room, it got Lamoriello’s message across – this is a team built for a deep playoff run, not a one-and-done playoff surprise.
It’s these moments of frustration we haven’t seen from any of the players. And, while they’ve remained largely positive, it’s refreshing to see someone in the organization get just as angry as the rest of us. But the incident differs from Robinson. Remember, Robinson did this in front of the players, getting their attention. Lamoriello did this only in front of the coaches, so it’s a smaller audience. But I think it had the same meaning. This is the head of the team. Lamoriello controls what players sit in that locker room next season. When the head man isn’t happy, no one should feel particularly comfortable.
While it didn’t have the shock factor for all of the players, this should still get the players fired up. As I said, this is the guy who controls the contracts of the players in the locker room. He expects results, and these players aren’t delivering. The Devils should make a mental note with this. Lamoriello’s anger not only affects the coaches, but it has a trickle-down effect. I would expect this to be a contributing factor to a more spirited performance tonight.
Hell, maybe if the Devils win the series, we can bookmark the “Jelly Jar” incident as another great locker-room outburst in Devils’ history.
Tomorrow night can be a sad night at the Rock. The Devils, who outplayed the Penguins all year and clinched second in the division, can be eliminated in the first round of the players for the third consecutive season. Down 3-1, and with the way the Devils have played, this looks almost certain. The Devils face a steep uphill climb to just get a victory tomorrow night.
Despite the odds, the Devils can still stage a comeback. But, in order to be competitive, the team needs leadership, and those leaders need to step up quickly. Who can step up to provide the leadership necessary to lead the team? Here are a few of my options:
1. Coach Jacques Lemaire
Lemaire hasn’t been doing so well in this series. It looks like Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette has thoroughly outcoached him. The Flyers’ forecheck has been terrific, they’ve continually attacked the Devils’ defense, and the team has never stopped moving since game one. Lemaire has seem subdued, almost emotionally detached to the situation going on around him. But I believe Lemaire can begin a Devils’ turnaround by making a few simple adjustments.
First, Lemaire needs to actually coach. While watching the games, Lemaire seems to take a hands-off approach, especially when the Devils need him most. Lemaire needs to get in the face of his players. He needs to be there, getting in players ears. He needs to make the adjustments in between periods to keep this team sharp. I know Lemaire has been hands-off, but down 3-1, it’s time to break the mold. I’d like to see Lemaire get a little more proactive on the bench and institute in-period changes. It’s the only way to keep up with a Flyers team that has outworked the Devils in four of the series five games.
Lemaire also has the background to help the team rescue the series. In 2003, with the Minnesota Wild, Lemaire pulled his team back from two 3-1 series deficits. They first came back against the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference quarterfinals, effectively ending Patrick Roy’s career. They repeated the feat in the next round, defeating the Vancouver Canucks. His experience in this situation can and should be used to help the team respond.
Lemaire knows the time for speeches and talking is over.
“It’s been four speeches that we put on and there will be a fifth one,” Lemaire said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “There’s a time for speeches. You can’t look for speeches. You’ve just got to get the work done.”
2. Colin White
In 2000, the Devils had great leadership throughout the locker room. Scott Stevens was the unquestioned leader of the team, but they also had great leadership from Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer. White was also on that squad. With the defense playing subpar during this series, the Devils need someone to step up and lead the blue line. While White may not be the best blueliner, he’s the senior leader of that group. White needs to step up and get the defense playing well. The defense hasn’t played well in their own zone, and White needs to be the one to hold people accountable. He should be the vocal leader of the group, reminding the defenseman to move the puck and make the smart play. He should be riding defenseman when they take dumb penalties or take a shift off. I haven’t seen anyone step up this season to be the leader of the defense. In this situation, the team needs someone to do that, and White’s been around long enough to know what the Devils expect from their defenseman. He should step up, carry the torch and lead the defense.
Coming into the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Devils were badly outplayed by the Flyers in one pivotal area: powerplay goals. While the Flyers ranked second in powerplay goals and third in powerplay assists. The Devils sat on the other end of the spectrum, ranking 21st in powerplay goals and assists. Playing against the Flyers, the Devils would get chances. One of the biggest factors would be whether or not the Devils could make the Flyers pay for their mistakes. Instead, the Devils have, so far, failed to capitalize on their chances.
In games one, the Flyers handed the Devils an opportunity to beat them with the man advantage. Down 2-0 in game one, the Flyers spent six minutes of the third period in the box, including a double-minor on Oskars Bartulis for high-sticking David Clarkson. The Devils couldn’t even set up in the zone, wasting their opportunities. It’s no surprise that the team ended up dropping the first game, 2-1, after missing out on five extra-man opportunities.
Yesterday was another example of the lack of powerplay skill. The Flyers gave the Devils eight – EIGHT – powerplay opportunities. The Devils converted on two chances, which isn’t a terrible percentage. But, on their other six chances, the Devils did little to even apply pressure to the Flyers. They only managed seven shots on their eight powerplay opportunities. That’s less than a shot per attempt. By the end of the game, the Devils powerplay looked jumbled and confused. Instead of putting pressure on Brian Boucher and the Flyers defense, the Devils allowed their opportunities to slide away. That, coupled with the lousy third period play, doomed the Devils in their 3-2 loss.
In the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Devils are 3-for-16 with the man advantage. That’s 18.7% While it’s not expected for the Devils to score a powerplay goal every single time they have an advantage, they should be putting pressure on the Flyers defense. They’ve looked absolutely terrible so far. No puck movement, no creativity, and no aggressive play. Without these three things, the Devils powerplay looks flat and unimaginative. The only way they can score against a swarming Philadelphia penalty kill is to move the puck and create opportunities. The usual dump in, play with the puck and try to get a shot off just won’t cut it. By moving the puck quickly, the Devils can open up lanes.
One great example is the Andy Greene powerplay goal in game two. The Devils used quick passing and deception to draw the Flyers to Ilya Kovalchuk. With the defense collapsing around the left-winger, Greene worked into the zone and one-timed a pass into the back of the net. Those things are going to create powerplay chances. Without doing this, the Devils are going to continue to struggle to put any pressure on the Flyers. With Philadelphia continuing to give the Devils chances, the powerplay will only grow in importance. If the Devils can’t figure it out, it may become their achilles heel.
In last night’s game, one of the major themes throughout was physical play. Both teams threw their bodies around, causing turnovers and making life tough around the boards. With both teams
playing physical, it was natural that there would be more penalty calls. But, in the end, the Devils were the undisciplined team. If their penalty kill didn’t come through for them, the Devils could have been heading to Philadelphia down 2-0 in the series. While the Devils want to match the Flyers intensity, they also need to be aware of the fine line between solid physical play and penalties.
The Devils physical play was a plus the entire night. After the Flyers dominated them throughout theregular season, the Devils came out on a mission to give the Flyers a taste of their own medicine. They did just that yesterday, racking up several hits in last night’s contest. Not only that, but their physical play led to turnovers and gave the Devils some of their best scoring chances of the night. This was one of the most encouraging signs of the series. They Devils wouldn’t allow themselves to be intimidated, and they proved that much last night.
One of those key players last night was Colin White. White, who tends to get lost in the shuffle during the regular season, had a great game last night. I can actually say that I noticed him in the game, which is something that rarely seems to happen. But White made a living nailing Flyers and, while he took some penalties, really made Flyers forwards think twice when they had the puck. He embodied the physical effort of the team last night. But while his play was great, he also took two minor penalties, penalties which need to be avoided against the Flyers.
While Ilya Kovalchuk came out ready to play, he embodies some of the dumber physical plays of the night last night. Kovalchuk took a minor in the first for elbowing, then went to the box again in the second period for an unnecessary slash on Mike Richards. Later in the second, he received a matching minor with Darroll Powe, a 10-minute a night guy, for roughing after the play. Colin White also got lucky, avoiding a major boarding penalty on a hit to Claude Giroux. While the Devils want to get out and play a physical game, they need to be smart. The penalties Kovalchuk took were dumb, and the boarding hit could have really changed the momentum. The Devils penalty kill, which went 2-for-7, made a difference tonight. But you can’t allow Philadelphia that many opportunities throughout this series.
Overall, the Devils need to approach game three with a smarter mentality. The team will still hit, and hit hard, but they need to avoid penalties. While the Devils didn’t pay for it last night, Philadelphia has a dangerous powerplay, already tallying three man-advantage goals during this series. While their physical play can neutralize the Flyers attack, the Devils need to be conscious of what can land them in the box. If they can tow that line a bit more tomorrow night, they should be able to frustrate the Flyers, maybe leading to a few more extra-man chances for the Devils.
Last night, the Devils showed some solid effort against the Philadelphia Flyers. They did drop game one, 2-1, but the team played well defensively and even had a solid penalty kill. But the Devils failed to do one thing: score on the powerplay. And, in this Eastern Conference quarterfinals matchup, the Devils need to score with the man advantage to beat their rivals.
One of the biggest turning points of last night’s game one loss came in the third period. The Flyers’ Oskars Bartulis received a four minute double-minor for a high stick that cut David Clarkson. The Devils, down 2-0 at the time, had a golden opportunity. If they could score at least one goal, they’d be right back in the game. The penalty, taken only 2:12 into the period, would also allow the Devils an early opportunity to get into the game.
Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, the Devils squandered their chance. They couldn’t set up anything, and they recorded only two scoring chances the entire advantage. Their futility on that specific powerplay summed up the Devils man advantage play last night. The Devils routinely struggled to set up any offense, and they weren’t moving the puck quick enough. As a result, the Flyers were able to apply steady pressure to the powerplay unit. The penalty killers got into passing lanes and blocked several shots, frustrating the Devils scorers.
It was the Devils’ powerplay that held them back from a win last night. If it continues to struggle, the powerplay may also cost the Devils the series.
If the special teams will be a deciding factor, the Devils need to get back to basics to make it work. One of the major problems last night was the lack of puck movement. Too many times, the Devils’ powerplay got stuck depending on one man, whether it was Ilya Kovalchuk or Paul Martin at the point or the forwards down low. The team shouldn’t have a “me vs. the entire defense” mentality. If the Devils begin to move the puck, they can get the Flyers defense standing still. When a penalty-killing unit gets flat-footed, they’ll react slower. That’s exactly how the Flyers scored on their second opportunity of the night.
Moving the puck also takes away some of the Flyers’ aggressive play on the penalty kill. As I said above, one of the biggest issues last night was the aggressive play of the Flyers’ penalty killers. They had their sticks in the passing lanes, and they sacrificed the body to take away shot attempts. Their penalty killers also played physical hockey, pinning Devils’ players to the boards and giving them some hard shots. Moving the puck takes away the ability for the penalty killers to successfully pursue like they did. Instead, the Flyers penalty killers would need to stay near in their box or diamond formation. If one decided to pursue, the Devils could make that aggressive player pay with a well-timed pass.
The good news is that the Devils spent the entire practice today working on the powerplay, including how to enter the zone and set up. The extra work will, hopefully, pay off in tomorrow night’s game. The Flyers will give the Devils plenty of man-advantage opportunities. If their powerplay can rise to the occassion, the Devils can use the Flyers’ undisciplined play against them.