The New Jersey Devils finally finished their coaching search two days ago, becoming the last team to fill that spot. The selection is still a bit of a head-scratcher.
Several big names were linked to the team’s open spot. Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therien, two veteran coaches with playoff experience, seemed destined for the job at one time or another. The Montreal Canadiens link still existed, with Guy Carbonneau finding his name attached to the position. Assistants like Mike Haviland were thrown into the discussion. Reports even had the Devils dipping into the college ranks, with Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves possibly taking over. Surprisngly, none of these guys earned the job.
Instead, Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello decided to hire Peter DeBoer. Does it ring a bell? DeBoer spent the past three seasons as the Florida Panthers coach, compiling a less-than-stellar 103-107-36 record. He never made the playoffs, but came close, losing out to the Canadiens in a tiebreaker during the 2008-09 season. Before coaching in the NHL, he spent seven seasons as the Kitchner Rangers head coach. That team won the Memorial Cup in 2003 and featured right-winger David Clarkson.
Clarkson gave the hire a ringing endorsement.
“I think Pete is going to be a great fit,” Clarkson told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record yesterday. “Wherever he goes, he finds a way to get the best out of the players.”
Lamoriello believes DeBoer can serve a dual purpose. First and foremost, the team needed a coach who could bring them back to the playoffs. The veteran-laden roster is seeing their championship window close rapidly. The organization’s 14-year playoff streak snapped last year, and Lamoriello doesn’t want to make that an every year occurance.
He also needed a coach who could relate to young players. The Devils relied heavily on rookies last season, and their better prospects are knocking on the NHL door. DeBoer spent the past three years coaching young players with Florida. The teams weren’t great, but it gave him the opportunity to learn the ropes. Lamoriello believes that experience served him well.
“He’s young,” Lamoriello said to Gulitti. “He has excellent experiences in dealing with all types of players. He also served as an assistant where he an opportunity in international play with league players and to (be able to) sit and watch how other people handed them. And I think he’s had three years of outstanding apprenticeship (with Florida), if that’s what you want to call it.”
It’s gameday, as the New Jersey Devils look to finally put together a winning streak tonight against the Calgary Flames. We’ll have a preview up later this morning, but for now, here’s today’s edition of The Devils’ Sports Page:
Kovalchuk not worried about laugh-gate; Guess Mattias Tedenby’s weight (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
Your Devils comments: Rate the play of Mattias Tedenby (NJ.com Staff/NJ.com)
Sutter not worried about crowd reaction in return to Rock; believes in MacLean as coach (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
Tedenby earning early praise (Eric Martin/Devils.NHL.com)
MacLean experts Volchenkov to play vs. Calgary; Hedberg to start (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
Devils notes: Honoring Pat Burns (Tom Gulitti/The Bergen Record)
Fayne helps New Jersey set club record (Pete Dougherty/The Times-Union)
Devils Cut Past Everblades, 3-2 (TrentonDevils.com)
Devils Sign Goalie Mike Brown (TrentonDevils.com)
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.
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.
With the Devils actively searching for a new coach, The Devils’ Den’s favorite beat reporter, Tom Gulliti, spoke to Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello about the team’s coaching vacancy. While several names have been linked to the Devils, Lamoriello made an important statement to Gulliti. When speaking about what they’re looking for in a coach, Lamoriello insisted the Devils’ philosophy would remain unchanged.
“Philosophically everything will stay together and we certainly will not put anybody in a position that doesn’t have the same continuity that we’ve had for years.”
While this quote doesn’t point to any candidate in particular, it shows an important facet of the coaching search. Lamoriello doesn’t want to radically change the Devils system. But how much change should a new coach be allowed to instill?
The Devils need a shakeup. It doesn’t have to be a radical one, but the team seemed to be playing stale and uninspired hockey in their first round loss to the Flyers this spring. The lines didn’t show much creativity, and the power play looked atrocious. Many of those themes began during the second part of the season. A new coach should be allowed to tinker with the offense, which I feel is always an area of untapped potential for the Devils. They have so many skill players, but both Brent Sutter and Jacques Lemaire couldn’t find the right combination to deliver the best lines, especially on the powerplay. It’s a waste of talent, and I believe a new coach needs to shake up the Devils offensively. And even operating under a defensive philosophy, the team can still improve it’s offensive output.
I believe the Devils could become one of the best counter-attacking teams in the league. Both Sutter and Lemaire rarely tapped into this potential when behind the bench. We’ve seen flashes in the past few years, when the Devils would forecheck well for a game or two and turn those chances into goals. But the team could never sustain that effort for a majority of a season. This type of play would be tough and grinding, and the Devils would need to improve their team speed. But a counter-attacking style would still fit under the team’s defense-first mentality and allow for some offensive potency. It wouldn’t be a radical change, but it could be the shift the team needs to finally infuse great defensive play with the potential for a solid offensive team.
So, what candidate could put this on the ice? That responsibility may rest on the unproven shoulders of Mike Haviland. The assistant coach of the Chicago Blackhawks has worked with this system before, helping to coach a team ready to make plays on the forecheck. Watching Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals showed just how good this counter-attacking system can be. The team always pressed and constantly took advantage of Flyers mistakes. Ultimately, they made plays happen. That’s been missing for the Devils over the past three years, and Haviland may be the coach to instill this style.
Offensive change is a must, but so is a better locker room environment. Read after the jump for my take on how the locker room dynamic needs to change with a new coach.
The former coach versus his old team.
Tonight’s matchup between the New Jersey Devils and the Calgary Flames came down to a matchup between Devils former coach Brent Sutter against the team he led to two straight playoff appearances.
The Flames scored five unanswered goals and beat the Devils, 5-3, at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Trailing 1-0 after the first period, Daymond Langkow scored 1:43 into the second period to tie the game. The Flames were able to catch the Devils top line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner on the ice for an extended period of time. After a faceoff win, Christopher Higgins took the puck behind the net. Higgins took a shot from the goal line hit the stick of Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur and went right to Langkow in the slot. Langkow backhanded the puck past Brodeur for his 12th goal of the season.
Curtis Glencross gave the Flames the lead with a shorthanded goal at 5:41 of the period. Devils’ left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk took the puck at the point after a Devils face-off win. He tried to make one too many moves, and Glencross stripped him of the puck. Glencross chased it down at center ice and broke in alone on Brodeur. He put the puck high over the glove for his third shorthanded goal of the season.
That was the fourth shorthanded the goal the Devils allowed this season.
Eric Nystrom added the third unanswered goal at 16:04 of the period. Glencross created the opportunity for Nystrom’s goal. After coming off the bench for a change, Glencross beat Devils’ defenseman Andy Greene and eliminated the icing. He checked Greene into the sideboards, and the Devils defenseman turned the puck over to Nystrom. Nystrom drove to the front of the net, and Brodeur tried to poke the puck away. It snuck under Brodeur’s pads and across the crease, and Nystrom backhanded the puck past a diving Brodeur for his seventh goal of the season.
Flames forwards Matt Stajan and Brandon Moss scored 33 seconds apart in the third period to extend the Flames lead to 5-1.
Stajan scored his 19th goal at the season at 9:29 of the third period. Flames forward Rene Bourque took a shot from the slot that bounced off of Brodeur’s right pad and back into the slot. Stajan collected the loose puck and put it through Brodeur’s pads for the Flames fourth-straight goals.
Moss created a turnover after a hit in the Devils zone almost thirty seconds later. Niklas Hagman took a shot that hit Moss in front of the net. The puck slid by Brodeur and toward the right post. Moss put the puck past Brodeur for his eighth goal of the season.
The Devils staged a comeback late in the third period, scoring two goals in 1:18 seconds.
Parise tallied his second goal of the game at 16:08. With Mark Giordano in the box for roughing, Zajac carried the puck into the zone. Two Flames pinned him on the side boards, but Zajac found a way to get the puck to Langenbrunner in the slot. Langenbrunner one-timed the shot, and Flames goalie Mikka Kiprusoff made the initial save. The puck trickled behind him, and Parise tapped the puck into the open net for his 30th goal of the season.
Kovalchuk scored 1:18 seconds later to pull the Devils within two. Patrik Elias passed the puck to Kovalchuk, who took a shot from the right circle. The puck trickled through Kiprusoff and over the goal line for Kovalchuk’s 34th goal of the season.
But the effort would fall short as the Devils lost for the 11th time in 19 games. They’re 6-11-2 during the streak.
Brodeur finished with 20 saves in the loss. Kiprusoff, who beat the Devils for the first time, stopped 22 shots in the win.
David Clarkson and Jamal Mayers fought twice in the game. While they didn’t throw many punches in the first go-around, both threw several rights in the second bout. Clarkson won both of the fights…Martin Skoula was a healthy scratch for the Devils tonight. The Devils acquired Skoula at the trade deadline from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a fifth-round draft pick in this year’s draft…The Devils have not won two consecutive games since January 9 (2-1 overtime win agains the Canadians) and January 12 (1-0 shootout win over the Rangers)…The Devils allowed five goals in a game for the fifth time this season. Brodeur played in each of those games.
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (38-21-3) face off against the Calgary Flames (30-24-9). This is the first and only meeting between the two teams this season.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils defeated the San Jose Sharks, 4-3, Tuesday night. After scoring four unanswered goals (three in the second period), the Devils allowed San Jose to climb back into the game. The Sharks scored three goals in 2:46 to pull within one, but the Devils held on for the win. Devils center Travis Zajac scored the game-winning goal, his 20th of the season. That matches his previous career high, set last season.
The Last Flames Game: The Flames were shut out in Minnesota, 4-0, Wednesday night. Niklas Backstrom made 29 saves for his second shutout of the season. Calgary is currently one point out of the playoffs in the West.
The Last Devils – Flames Game: In their matchup last season (March 10, 2009), the Devils defeated the Flames, 3-2. Martin Brodeur stopped 35 pucks, and Zach Parise scored the game-winning goal in the third period.
Tonight’s Matchup: The Devils showed some good signs against the Flames. They attacked the Sharks and put pressure on the defense, leading to their three second-period goals. The Devils caused turnovers on the forecheck and made Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabakov make tough saves. The second line of Ilya Kovalchuk – Dainius Zubrus – Patrik Elias really played well, spending most of the game in the Sharks zone.
But the Devils bad tendencies also reared its ugly head. The Devils tendency to not play for stretches hurt them, as they allowed a 4-0 lead to evaporate to a 4-3 edge. Granted, they refocused and won the game, but it’s still not something to accept. The Devils need to play sixty minutes a game, night in and night out. It didn’t cost them Tuesday night, but the Devils will drop important games down the stretch if they continue that trend.
The Devils need to continue their strong play from the other night. Mikka Kiprusoff is a great goalie, but we saw what the team can do to good goalies. The Flames haven’t been the hottest offensive team, and going against a sharp goalie like Brodeur can stymie them. The Devils can’t fall into the “Sutter vs. us” mentality. Sutter would have left the team after his contract regardless. He clearly didn’t want to be there anymore. I know the Devils will want to beat their old coach, but it shouldn’t be their only motivation. He won’t be on the ice, and the Devils need to focus on those players.
Game time is 9:00 p.m. and will be on MSG Plus. Make sure you check out The Devils Den or Running With The Devils for a live game blog!
Only one more day until the Devils take the ice in Calgary to face off against the Flames. Here’s some news to hold you over:
Martin Skoula Joins Team In Calgary Tonight
Newly-acquired defenseman Martin Skoula joined the team tonight in Calgary. Lou Lamoriello assigned him number 28 – the number Valdimir Zharkov had all season. Zharkov has been reassigned number 18, which previously belonged to Niclas Bergfors and Sergei Brylin.
In an interview with Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire seemed high on Skoula, who played for him in Minnesota.
“I think he can play as good as some of the guys we have,” he said to Gulitti. “I think he’s very solid in the defensive zone. He knows the game well. He’s a big body (6-3, 225). He protects the puck along the boards. He can make that first pass. When he’s got his game straightened up, he can do good stuff. It doesn’t mean he’s going to go ahead of our guys right away, but we’ll see what he can do and if he shows that he’s doing more things, then we’ll put him in the lineup. That’s how it works.”
Although Skoula arrived tonight, he is not expected to play in tomorrow night’s game.
Devils Players Don’t Seek Revenge Against Sutter
With the Devils facing their ex-coach tomorrow night, there would seem to be some extra incentive for the players to beat the Flames.
If there is, no one is saying it.
When interviewed today, many Devils players were indifferent about facing Brent Sutter, their coach for two seasons.
“I haven’t quite thought about it,” Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said after today’s practice in Calgary. “We’re more concerned about starting to get something rolling than doing something him. I think they’ve got their own things to worry about trying to get into the playoffs. We’re trying to stay on top of our division.”
Sutter stepped down after the 2008-2009 campaign to be closer to his family in Red Deer, Alberta. Some players thought it was fishy when Sutter agreed to coach the Flames two weeks after leaving the Devils. His brother, Daryl, is the general manager of the Flames. But players aren’t showing any emotion about that situation either.
“That was a litle weird because we didn’t think (he was leaving) for that,” goalie Martin Brodeur said. “But, knowing the situation with his brother here and everything, if there was a place he was going to go this was it.”
There were some players, like Dainius Zubrus, who felt they were restricted in Sutter’s system.
“I’m happy now,” Zubrus said. “This year I’m way more involved in different things, whether it’s special teams. I’ve had more responsibilities than I had the past couple of years and that’s something I wanted. That’s about it.”
*Quotes from Fire and Ice Blog by Bergen Record reporter Tom Gulitti