Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Kicking things off is the preview of this season’s matchup with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Devils and Ducks share a deep history despite playing on opposite coasts. Just eight years ago, New Jersey and Anaheim faced off in an epic seven-game Stanley Cup Finals. Everyone remembers the battles between J.S. Giguere and Martin Brodeur, and the heroics of Mike Rupp.
Since then, they haven’t developed much of a rivalry. They only meet once a year, which doesn’t allow for much hatred to develop. Even Scott Niedermayer wearing their sweater couldn’t tip the scales.
Devils vs. Ducks – The History Behind The Matchup
In 23 games against Anaheim, the Devils are 14-8-0 with 1 tie. New Jersey averages 2.96 goals for against the Ducks (68 total), and allow just 2.26 goals per game (52 total).
Last season, the team’s met once, during a Devils west coast trip. New Jersey beat the Ducks, 2-1, using some late game dramatics. Jason Blake opened the scoring in the second period, tallying on the powerplay. Saku Koivu held the puck along the side boards, then moved the puck to Blake below the goal line. The left-winger drove to the net, and Brodeur made the first save. Blake knocked the rebound home for the goal and the lead.
The lead wouldn’t last long, as Jamie Langenbrunner scored just over two minutes later to tie the game. The right-winger corralled a loose puck behind the net, and skated to the goal line. His shot deflected off of Jonas Hiller and into the net for the tying goal. The teams ended the period tied, 1-1. Then Patrik Elias took over.
The Devils left-winger broke the tie just 1:54 into the third period. Alexander Vasyunov picked off a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone, and New Jersey moved into the offensive zone on a 3-on-1. Vasyunov sent a pass to Elias, who blasted a one-timer from the slot past Hiller for the game-winning goal. For game highlights, check out the video below.
Devils vs. Ducks – This Season’s Matchup
Anaheim underwent some significant roster changes this offseason. The team shipped Andy Sutton to Edmonton, acquiring defenseman Kurtis Foster. They continued dealing with their northern neighbors, acquiring Andrew Cogliano for a second round pick. Other signings include Jeff Deslauries, Mathieu Carle and Andrew Gordon. They lost Todd Marchant to retirement and Andres Lilja on the free-agent market.
Ultimately, Anaheim’s success hinges on the health of Hiller. They’ve got great producers in Bobby Ryan and Blake. If Teemu Selanne decides to return, it’ll be another piece to the puzzle. But Hiller remains the most important piece. He only played in 49 games last year due to vertigo, creating a carousel of goalies. Anaheim tried out backups (Curtis McIlhenny), Ray Emery and Dan Ellis. Only McIlhenny played more than 15 games, and he recorded a 6-9-1 record. Without Hiller, they sit near the bottom of playoff contenders.
Ultimately, one game will not completely sink the Devils. Anaheim will visit The Rock on February 17, and it’ll be the only meeting of the season. There won’t be too much at stake, just the regular two points.
In 20 games (19 starts) against the Ducks, Brodeur is 13-6-0 with three ties. He’s carrying a gaudy 1.82 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage…Despite playing hero last season, Elias doesn’t have great numbers against Anaheim. In 16 games, he’s tallied six points, but carries a minus-4 rating…Jersey-native Ryan has two points in three games against the Devils.
The New Jersey Devils entered today with 11 restricted free agents. Two of them may not return.
The organization sent qualifying offers to nine of their restricted free agents today. Matt Corrente, Matt Taormina, Vladimir Zharkov, Mark Fraser, Maxim Noreau, Jeff Frazee, Steve Zalewski and Nathan Perkovich all received offers.
Alexander Vasyunov, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, did not receive an offer. His agent informed the Devils that he signed a one-year contract for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL next season.
The players can still receive offer sheets from other teams, but the Devils can match that offer.
There were a few players who were locks for qualifying offers. Taormina led defenseman in goals until a high-ankle sprain ended his season. He was one of the few bright spots during the team’s abysmal first half, and will probably get a chance to earn his spot back next season. Corrente, a former-first round pick, has the support of the organization behind him. Like Taormina, injury limited him this season.
Other players seem to be skating on thin ice. Fraser followed a strong rookie campaign with a disappointing sophomore season. The Devils qualified him, but with the defensive depth moving through the organization, he needs to put together a solid season. The same goes for Frazee. The Devils have three strong goalie prospects in Scott Wedgewood, Maxime Clermont and Keith Kinkaid. They’re still a year or two away, but Frazee doesn’t have much time to prove himself.
The organization also did not issue a qualifying offer to defenseman Anssi Salmela. He played 48 games with the Devils, but failed to really make an impression. It doesn’t necessarily mean the team won’t sign him. Two years ago, New Jersey didn’t qualify Andy Greene, but re-signed him anyway.
Zach Parise entered this offseason a restricted free agent, but did not receive an offer. Instead, New Jersey elected to take the left-winger to arbitration. That eliminates the possibility of other team’s submitting an offer sheet and guarantees he will be a Devil next season.
The New Jersey Devils enter the 2011 NHL Entry Draft with their left-wing depth in flux. There’s talent at the position, but it’s limited to just a few players.
Ilya Kovalchuk headlines the group of left-wingers. Despite a down season last year, he remains a premier scorer in the league. Everyone knows the skill Zach Parise can bring to the table. The restricted free agent has yet to negotiate a new deal, though, and will return from knee surgery next season. As of right now, the Devils young star can’t be considered an absolute shoe-in for the lineup. Brian Rolston rounds out the top talent on the left side. Although he experienced improved offensively last year, he can’t depend the same goal-scoring prowess he did last season.
After those three players, the talent thins considerably. Alexander Vasyunov played in 18 games last season, but didn’t make much of an impact. He also struggled in Albany, posting career lows across the board. With such talented wingers in the league right now, and the possibility of having two great ones on the team, left-wing isn’t a draft need. But if the Devils can manage to upgrade their depth with a later pick, it would help a position dying for a talented prospect.
Albany Devils (AHL)
Chad Wiseman – 48 GP, 44 points (16 G, 28 A), minus-8 rating
Wiseman can light the lamp, but hasn’t had his chance to show off in the NHL. He’s played in just nine games with NHL clubs, recording one goal and one assist. But he’s shown the ability to tear up AHL goaltending. This season, he set or tied Albany individual scoring records in one game. On March 9, he netted four goals against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 9:03, matching the record for most goals in a single period of play. He also tied the record of most goals scored in a game. Guess that Islanders goaltending is bad throughout the system.
Plenty of guys show their stuff in the AHL, but few have the talent to make it work in the NHL. Wiseman seems like one of those players. He’s a 30-year old career AHL player, and his best opportunities may be behind him. He’s a great depth piece, but not a legitimate NHL candidate right now.
Louis Robitaille – 50 GP, 8 points (2 G, 6 A), minus-2 rating
Robitaille never found a way to move through the organization, and ended his career last season with Albany. He was an enforcer, tallying an impressive 246 penalty minutes last season. But he never rose above the AHL ranks, and would never in today’s game. Enforcers need to possess some offensive skill, which Robitaille did not. He retired after the season to coach the QJAAAHL’s Valleyfield Braves.
Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. Many of those breakdowns revolved around individual player performances. We broke down all players who skated in at least 40 games, because they contributed to over half the games (and outcomes) this season. In the next few days, we’ll look at “The Best of the Rest,” breaking down other players who skated in less than 40 games. Today, we’ll look at the remaining offensive players.
Throughout the course of a season, teams will count on players to fill in games. The New Jersey Devils were no different. Nine different offensive players skated in less than half of the Devils’ games this season. Some were fourth-liner fill ins, and others were rookies who couldn’t find a consistent spot. One was even a team’s cornerstone who missed significant time due to injury.
We’ll take a look at all of them, in order of games played. And here we go:
Vladimir Zharkov – 38 GP, 4 points (2 G, 2 A)
After playing 40 games last season with New Jersey, Zharkov once again got his opportunity in the NHL this season. He spent most of his time playing on the third and fourth lines. He almost exclusively played during even strength situations, pulling down a minus-0.59 rating. He only helped produce eight goals this season, and the team’s offensive numbers improved with him off the ice. He provided little value, recording a minus-0.2 GVT.
I believe the numbers unnecessarily belittle Vharkov’s effort. We finally saw some offense, as Zharkov managed to score his first two NHL goals. He’ll never be a big scorer, but I believe he’ll hang around as a solid third or fourth line player.
Tim Sestito – 36 GP, 2 Points (2 A)
Sestito helped fill the fourth-line center role early this season. The seven-year pro filled in well, but couldn’t really contribute offensively. He helped produce just three goals, assisting on two of them. The team expectedly played much better offensively with him off the ice. He didn’t really help much defensively either, with the shots against per 60 improving with him on the bench.
Predictably, Sestito didn’t finish with a positive GVT. His minus-1.3 rating ranked him in the bottom three of all players. He could probably be replaced by a rookie next year, and the organization may go that way. His cap hit wasn’t large this season (just $500,000), so he could also be brought back on a low cost, one-year deal.
Jacob Josefson – 28 GP, 10 Points (3 G, 7 A)
Josefson entered the pre-season as one of the most talked about rookies in camp. Everyone knew the organization would closely watch the development of their young Swede. After watching him this season, they can only be excited about his future in a Devils sweater.
Josefson recorded a plus-1.42 rating, fourth-highest among all skaters. He helped create offense (2.08 goals for per 60 on-ice) and prevent it (1.31 goals against per 60 on-ice). Those numbers both worsened when he was on the bench. Surprisingly, the GVT ratings put him at a minus-0.3. It’s not terrible, but it shows an area he must improve.
Josefson earned high praise from Jacques Lemaire, who doesn’t easily praise rookies. Look for him to stay in the lineup next season and keep developing into a solid center.
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:
There’s been some updates on several players over the past few days, so here’s a quick rundown of the conditions of those players. Thanks to both Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record and Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger for the updates.
1. Zach Parise Sheds Leg Brace
Yesterday, Gulitti reported that Parise received clearance to remove an immobilizing leg brace from his doctor yesterday. Although the left-winger is about two months away from returning, it’s a positive sign in his recovery.
2. Anssi Salmela To Play Wednesday
Salmela, who missed several months with a torn ACL, will make his return to the lineup Wednesday night against the Phoenix Coyotes. Salmela completed a conditioning stint with the Albany Devils earlier this week.
3. NHL/AHL Roster Moves
The Devils sent down Matt Corrente and Alexander Vasyunov during the weekend, and recalled both Harry Young and Dan Kelly. Kelly has already returned to Albany, and Young is expected to return when the team activates Salmela. The Devils also recalled Tim Sestito earlier today.
4. Injury Updates
Gulitti also posted several updates on injured Devils. Matt Taormina is beginning to skate after suffering a high ankle sprain, and his return won’t be anytime soon. Jacob Josefson also began skating, but like Taormina, he won’t be ready for a while. Mark Fraser appears to be the closest injured Devil ready to rejoin the team. The defenseman has skated on his own for about 10 days and, pending a visit to the doctor, should be able to return to practice soon.
Tonight’s Matchup: The Montreal Canadiens (15-8-2) face off against the New Jersey Devils (8-14-2) tonight at the Prudential Center. It’s the second of four meetings between the two teams this season. The Devils lead the current season series, 1-0-0.
The Last Canadiens Game: The Habs blew a third period lead and lost to the Edmonton Oilers, 4-3, last night in Montreal. Down, 3-1, in the third period, the Oilers began the comeback with a goal from Ales Hemsky at 10:09 of the period. Sam Gagner tied it in the third, and Dustin Penner scored the overtime winner.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, in a shootout Saturday afternoon at the Rock. Adam Mair struck first, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead in the first period. New Jersey held the lead until the third period, when Daniel Briere tied the game on a powerplay goal. Travis Zajac scored the shootout winner, beating Brian Boucher high to the glove side for the win.
The Last Canadiens – Devils Game: The Devils blanked the Canadiens, 3-0, on October 21 at the Bell Centre. Zach Parise, Jason Arnott and Matt Taormina provided the offense, and Martin Brodeur stopped 29 shots for the shutout.
Brotherly Love: Stephen Gionta will face off against ex-Devil and brother Brian Gionta tonight, the first time they’ve faced each other in their professional careers. Stephen wears number 14, the same number Brian wore while with the Devils. Brian is the better goal scorer and will probably have a greater impact on the outcome of the game. Regardless, it’ll still be fun to watch. Maybe they’ll get into a few battles along the boards.
Tonight’s Matchup: After winning three of four games last week (and playing four out of the seven days), the Devils earned a well-deserved four day break. But those breaks can take a team off their game, especially one that’s just beginning to develop some momentum. The biggest key of tonight’s matchup will be intensity. If the Devils play fast and smart, they can wear down the Canadiens early. Remember, the Canadiens did play last night and travel to New Jersey. The Devils will hold a decisive edge in rest, and they need to take advantage of that tonight.
Intensity will only get them so far. The Devils need to finish their scoring chances tonight. As we all know, that’s been the biggest challenge this season. The Canadiens, however, usually provide the remedy to cure the Devils’ problems. Carey Price is having a great season (14-7-2, 2.04 goals-against average and .932 save percentage), but hasn’t played well against the Devils. New Jersey should find a way to beat the Habs tonight. It’s almost like clockwork against them.
Jamie Langenbrunner and Matt Corrente both return tonight for the Devils. Alexander Vasyunov and Olivier Magnan are healthy scratches.
Gametime is 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus or WFAN 660AM. Here is the projected lineup for tonight’s game:
FORWARDS: Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Jamie Langenbrunner; 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; Mark Fayne – Matt Corrente
GOALIES: Johan Hedberg; Mike McKenna