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Devils 2011-12 Schedule Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Mattias Tedenby played hero on the February 8 matchup, scoring two goals en route to a 3-2 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Today, we the preview this season’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The mention of the Carolina Hurricanes still paints a painful picture in the minds of every New Jersey Devils’ fan. Just two short years ago, the Carolina scored two goals in 80 seconds to knock New Jersey out of the playoffs. Since then, New Jersey hasn’t found success in the playoffs. Their meetings, however, are definitely more heated.

The ‘Canes came up just short of the playoffs last season, missing out by one point. The Devils helped hold them back, winning three of four against them. Carolina lost one of the faces of their franchise, but has another upcoming. Always a playoff contender, the Devils will once again face a tough test against their southern rivals.

The History Behind The Matchup

In 113 meetings, New Jersey is 58-41-2 with 12 ties against Carolina. They’ve averaged 3.19 goals for during the head-to-head matchup (360 total) and only allow 2.96 goals against per meeting (335 total). They’re the only opponent that’s played over 100 games against the Devils and averaged less than three goals per game.

The Devils and Canes squared off four times last season, all between January and February. Carolina took the first meeting, 6-3, on New Year’s Day in Raleigh. Tuomo Ruutu opened the scoring, finding the back of the net on the powerplay just 1:48 into the first period. Jeff Skinner made it 2-0 at 4:28 of the opening frame, and Sergei Samsonov stretched the lead to three with a powerplay tally at the eight minute mark. The goal chased Martin Brodeur, who recorded just four saves. The two teams traded scores later in the period, and Carolina entered the break ahead 4-1.

The scoring wouldn’t end there. Travis Zajac scored 49 seconds into the second period, closing the gap to 4-2. Samsonov would score another powerplay goal, this one at 8:42 of the middle frame, to put the lead back to three. The teams traded goals again in the third, ending the game in a Hurricanes win. Ruutu added insult to injury, recording four points in just that game.

The Devils evened the season series, winning 3-2 in overtime on February 8 at the Prudential Center. Skinner opened the scoring in the second period, converting on a powerplay at 9:22 for a 1-0 lead. It was a short-lived lead. Mattias Tedenby tied the game, 1-1, at 11:31 of the middle frame. Skinner put his team ahead, 2-1, on yet another powerplay goal, this at 8:37 of the third period. Another Devils rookie, Nick Palmieri, tied the game at two at 17:06 of the final frame. It would be a rookie playing hero in overtime for the win:

Johan Hedberg stopped 20 shots for the win. Cam Ward stopped 31 shots in the loss.

Just eight days later, the two teams squared off again at the Prudential Center. The Devils skated away with another 3-2 win. Ilya Kovalchuk broke a scoreless tie at 5:41 of the second period. They extended their lead quickly in the third period, with Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias scoring in the opening two minutes to push the lead to 3-0. Carolina mounted a comeback, with Samsonov ending Hedberg’s shutout at 8:17 of the final period. Ruutu scored at 19:55 to pull the teams within one. That’s as close as they would get. Hedberg stopped 25 shots in the win, and Ward stopped 19 in the loss.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Mark Fayne

May 26, 2011 1 comment

Fayne played 57 games this season, leading all skaters with a plus-10 rating. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Mark Fayne.

The New Jersey Devils’ defense entered the preseason under one of the biggest question marks in recent history. The organization watched as Paul Martin, arguably one of their best offensive defenseman, left to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In his place came Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, and Andy Greene became the top threat along the blueline. Colin White and Bryce Salvador figured to anchor the defense. But things, of course, never work out as planned.

A spot opened along the blueline after Salvador suffered a concussion in the preseason. Ex-coach John MacLean gave several rookies a look. Matt Taormina took the spot, starting the first 17 games of the season. The injury bug would get him too, opening the door for Mark Fayne.

Nobody had terribly high expectations for the Providence product. The rookie made his NHL debut against the Washington Capitals on November 22, and the experience proved to be “nuts.”

“My first game was kinda nuts playing against Ovechkin,” he said to me in an interview. “I wasn’t matched up against him, but a few times I was out when he was at the end of his shift and I thought ‘Oh my God, that’s Alex Ovechkin.'”

Clearly, the experience of playing in the NHL didn’t overwhelm Fayne. He became the best rookie defenseman, starting 57 games and providing solid minutes. He contributed offensively, played smart defensively and took care of his job on the ice. The rookie exceeded expectations, making him one of the best defenseman this season.

Fayne At Even Strength

Fayne finished among the top three in almost every important even strength category. That means he outproduced players like Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson in his first season. Fayne averaged 17:50 of ice time, ranked 14th among all rookie skaters. That number was the highest of all the rookies on the Devils this season. His plus-1.02 rating ranked first among skaters with at least 50-games played. He’s the only player to crack a plus-1 rating, and only one of eight to finish positive. He produced those numbers despite facing better quality of competition (plus-0.04) with lesser teammates (minus-0.071).

Despite a down year for several players, Fayne helped provide scoring and played responsible defensively. While on the ice, the team averaged 2.30 goals for per 60 (35 total). That average tied him for second on the team with Travis Zajac. He only allowed opponents 1.77 goals against per 60, tied for lowest on the team with Mattias Tedenby. His on-ice plus/minus of plus-0.52 ranked first on the team and was just one of three plus ratings on the ice.

With Fayne off the ice, the team worsened in every category. Goals for per 60 dropped to 1.73 and goals against per 60 rose to 2.23.  His off-ice plus/minus fell to minus-0.49, almost a full point lower than his on-ice production.

Shot production followed a similar trend. On the ice, Fayne helped the team average 25.5 shots on net. He limited opponents to 22.4 shots against per 60, third best among defenseman with 50-plus games played. Off the ice, both numbers suffered. Shots for per 60 dropped to 23.7, almost a two shot difference. Shots against per 60 rose to 23.8, which is a small yet noticeable difference.

Fayne’s Corsi rating confirms his strong even-strength performance. His on-ice rating of plus-7.7 ranked second among all defenseman, just seven-tenths of a point behind Tallinder. Off the ice, that number dropped to plus-0.6. Fayne exceeded expectations on even-strength play. He helped produce offensive opportunities, limited opponents chances, and became a solid player. Outproducing some of the bigger names on the roster, including Ilya Kovalchuk, shows the potential for him to grow into a top four defenseman.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Dainius Zubrus

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Zubrus had yet another up-and-down season where he failed to record over 30 points. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Dainius Zubrus.

Last year marked the halfway point of Dainius Zubrus’ six-year, $20.4 million contract with the New Jersey Devils. In many ways, that single fact alone was good news for fans. Zubrus, who has never fulfilled the offensive billing from his days with the Washington Capitals, will soon come off the books. Many analysts and fans, including me, predicted the team would trade him last year to clear cap space. He didn’t move, however, sticking around for the entire season.

In his three seasons with the Devils, Zubrus played a multitude of different positions on various lines. That continued throughout the first half of the season, when he shifted between the second and third lines. That affected his production and made him almost invisible. When Lemaire came in, he made Zubrus an anchor on the second line, and his production benefitted. Just like Henrik Tallinder, Zubrus went through two different seasons this year. In the end, he proved to be a valuable piece of a productive second line. But even that wouldn’t erase feelings of frustration among fans and analysts alike.

Zubrus At Even Strength

Zubrus ranked among the top in both games played by centers (79) and time on ice per 60 (13.83) during the season, trailing only Travis Zajac in those two categories. His minus-0.02 rating isn’t terrible, considering the season the first half of the season. His quality of competition ranked second on the team (plus-0.027) and he generally played with skilled linemates, checking in with the highest quality of teammates (plus-0.089).

Playing with better teammates provided Zubrus with ample opportunities to contribute offensively. He ranked second on the team in both goals for on the ice (40) and goals for on per 60 (2.20). His shots for per 60 checked in at 25.4, ranking third among the centers. In total, Zubrus provided positive value on the ice. His Corsi rating of plus-6.87 ranked second among centers, showing he helped generate offense and kept the opponents at bay.

Zubrus also provided some solid defensive last season. He helped hold opponents to 21.7 shots per 60 while on the ice. Off the ice, those numbers worsened to 24.3 shots against.

During five-on-five play, Zubrus fit his billing as a decent two-way center with some offensive skill. His numbers will be higher than others because of his teammates, but he also had a few productive months as well. In February alone, he scored six goals in in 13 games. While he’ll never be a top-line center, he proved to be a solid second-line option.

Zubrus On The Powerplay

Despite the powerplay’s issues, Zubrus excelled during man-advantage situations this season. His time on ice of 2.32 ranked third among centers, and he usually helped anchor the second powerplay unit. His plus-0.29 rating ranked third, but second among centers who averaged regular powerplay time.

Zubrus led centers for overall goal production on the ice, with the team scoring 15 powerplay goals. His 4.91 goals for per 60 ranked, predictably, first among centers. He generated shots on net, with his 49.4 shots per 60 ranking second.

The evidence for Zubrus’ effective man-advantage play lies in the off-ice numbers. With Zubrus on the bench, numbers dropped across the board. Goals for per 60 dropped to 3.59, shots for per 60 dropped to dropped to 40.9, and the Corsi dropped from 89.39 to 75.32.

The stats don’t lie – Zubrus proved his worth on the powerplay. On the ice he produced, and the team struggled without him. Clearly it wasn’t enough to make the powerplay one of the league’s best. But in a season where the Devils powerplay was ineffective, Zubrus excelled.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Henrik Tallinder

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Tallinder embodies the Devils struggles this season, playing terrible hockey during the first half but rebounding in the second. Photo Credit: Lou Capozzola/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s second review, we focus on Henrik Tallinder.

When New Jersey Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello signed Henrik Tallinder last season, several fans showed surprise by the move. Tallinder, who posted point totals of 15 or more in just three of his eight seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, wouldn’t provide any offensive value. Tallinder didn’t fit the mold of a puck-moving defenseman the team desperately needed. But Lamoriello didn’t sign him for his offensive skill.

While in Buffalo, Tallinder helped mentor Tyler Myers, the eventual Calder Trophy-winning defenseman. The Devils’ new defenseman is also Swedish, and could help mentor the three young Swedes in the organization. Lamoriello believed that role played an integral part to the signing.

“In Tallinder, you’ve got somebody 6-4, 240, played under an outstanding coach (Lindy Ruff in Buffalo), mentored (Tyler) Myers in Buffalo this year,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “We’ve got three young Swedish players coming in (Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Alexander Urbom). He’s 31 years old. He’s in his prime. He’s a mature guy.”

Tallinder brought skill to the blueline, but not exactly what the Devils needed. As the season wore on, however, we saw two different Tallinders. The first half of the season he was atrocious, and the second half he became a rock on the team’s defense. His numbers in all areas display that, showing a player who played well on the Devils’ blue line this season.

Tallinder At Even Strength

Tallinder, one of only two Devils defenseman to play all 82 games, led the defense in even strength time on ice per 60 minutes with a 19.04. That number sat almost a full minute higher than Andy Greene, the next closest player. He also faced solid competition, with the opponents averaging a plus-.03 rating. He continually faced the opposing team’s top two lines (evidenced by his plus-.079 quality of team rating), a testament to his solid play and the trust both John MacLean and Jacques Lemaire placed in him.

If you’ve read some of the other previews, you’ve noticed a trend with Devils defenseman. Each carries a negative plus/minus rating per 60 minutes. With the season the team played, especially during the first three months, it’s expected. Tallinder was on the ice for 54 goals scored, most on the defense. But he also was on the ice for 64 goals scored against, once again tops on the team. His minus-0.38 rating isn’t positive, but it also isn’t terrible. The team posted lower numbers in goals scored and higher numbers in goals against, showing Tallinder’s true impact on the ice.

The positive feedback continues while looking at more data. While on the ice, the team averaged 2.46 goals, 26.9 shots and 22.7 shots against per 60 minutes. When off the ice, the numbers dipped across the board. Goals for dropped to 2.15, shots for dropped to 25.7 and shots against rose to 23.9.

Tallinder’s Corsi numbers wrap up his even-strength performance nicely. On the ice, Tallinder posted a Corsi of 9.30, helping generate offense and shutting down the opponents. Off the ice, the team’s Corsi dropped to 0.87. He clearly put those first half struggles behind him to have a solid second half.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Andy Greene

April 28, 2011 2 comments

Greene couldn't match his career high in points, set two seasons ago, during 2010-11. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. Today we focus on Andy Greene.

When Paul Martin left as a free agent last season, Andy Greene became the Devils’ de-facto “offensive defenseman.” In the last year of his two-year contract, the Devils’ expected Greene to step up and fulfill his offensive potential. He wouldn’t match that potential, failing to meet the expectations set by his career-best year last season.

Greene At Even Strength

Greene played in all situations for the Devils, so we’ll take a look at him in all three situations. The first area we’ll look at is even strength, where Greene spent most of his time. His average ice time of 18.18 ranked second on the team behind Henrik Tallinder despite not playing on the top pairing. His quality of competition rated a minus-.06, giving him the advantage of playing against some weak competition. Despite that, his relative player ranking checked in at minus-.83, meaning Greene was a liability in his own end. He was the only defenseman who played at least 50 games that carried a negative ranking.

Despite the low quality of competition, Greene turned in some of the worst numbers at even strength among Devils defenseman. Teams scored 63 goals with Greene on the ice, second worst on the team. For all of his supposed offensive skill, the team only averaged 1.61 goals when he was on the ice. That ranked – you guessed it – last on the team. Both numbers improved with Greene off the ice, as the team scored more and allowed less goals. The shots for/against numbers remained relatively the same with him on and off the ice.

Greene did finish with a positive Corsi rating, which is about the only thing he can hang his hat on this season. His 2.66 rating means he helped the team generate shots on net. But the team still performed better with him off the ice, recording a 4.98 Corsi rating.

Greene On The Powerplay

When the Devils weren’t using five forwards, Greene spent significant time on the powerplay. As the team’s only true “offensive defenseman,” he averaged the most time out of the group, with an average of 1.27. Yet he somehow found a way to record a negative rating, checking in with a -.26. It was second on the team, but that’s not a number you want to see from your main blueline threat on the powerplay.

The good news is he turned in positive numbers in every other important category. He was on the ice for seven powerplay goals, tops among defenseman. His plus/minus rating was 2.87, putting him behind Mark Fayne for the team lead. The team’s scoring increased slightly with him off the ice, but not enough to make Greene a detriment to the powerplay.

The biggest difference on the powerplay comes in the shot totals. With Greene on the ice, the Devils averaged 35.5 shots per 60 minutes. When he stepped off the ice, the shot total skyrocketed, moving to 50.5 shots per 60. While those numbers are inflated, it shows a definitive increase in production. Remember, however, that sometimes New Jersey used five forwards with the extra man. This strategy took away time from Greene and, with forwards on the ice, definitively increased the shot output.

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The 2010-2011 Season Review: An Overview of Failure

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

The New Jersey Devils season can only be described as a roller coaster of emotions. It began with excited and raised expectations, with a possible Cup run dancing in the heads of fans and analysts alike. But that quickly faded as the team slogged through a miserable first half of the season. The team did turn it around, ripping off over 20 wins in a wild second half comeback. The effort fell short, however, as the Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season. Let’s break down the season, phase by phase, in our overview of the Devils 2010-2011 season.

Everything was all laughs before the season started for the Devils. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Offseason – Heightened Expectations

The offseason brought angst, anger and excitement out of the Devils. It began early, with the team bringing back Jason Arnott to fill the second-line center hole. General manager Lou Lamoriello opened the checkbook this summer, filling in his depleted blue line with defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov.  The shopping wasn’t done, as Lamoriello and owner Jeff Vanderbeek went after their crown jewel – Ilya Kovalchuk.

We all know about “The Kovalchuk Saga” this summer. There’s no reason to regurgitate the plethora of summer issues here. Despite several difficulties with denied contracts and “circumvention of the cap,” the Devils and Kovalchuk were finally united in September. Bringing in a potential 40-goal scorer to team up with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac had fans and analysts salivating. The Devils looked like a team with the potential to light the lamp consistently, something that’s always plagued them.

The organization also went with ex-player John MacLean as its newest coach. In one season with the Lowell Devils, MacLean led the AHL-affiliate to a postseason appearance. He promised to stress puck possession and push for a more up-tempo attack. With assistants Adam Oates and Larry Robinson, he seemed to fill out his bench with needed experience.

The moves may not deliver a Stanley Cup to Newark, but the franchise seemed set to continue their stellar play and make a serious run at the Cup.

The Season, Part 1: A Lesson In Disappointment

How quickly the early-season enthusiasm took a turn for the worse. I pinpoint the positive vibes ending in the first period of the Devils first game against the season, against the Dallas Stars. The Devils “Lefty Line” of Parise, Zajac and Kovalchuk already struck for two goals. They threatened to push the lead to three, but Kovalchuk hit a post. It seemed that clang off the iron changed the entire course of the season. New Jersey lost their opener, 4-3, in overtime. They’d win only three times in 11 October games, allowing four-plus goals in three of those losses.

The early-season struggles continued well into November and December. The team’s defense play looked atrocious. Forwards didn’t backcheck, defenders didn’t cover passing lanes, and the goalies were left to dry on a nightly basis. Compounding their swiss cheese defense was a complete inability to score goals. Nobody could find the back of the net, and players like Kovalchuk suffered through career-worst slumps.

Injuries played a major role as well. Parise went down with a torn meniscus on October 30 against the Los Angeles Kings, effectively ending his season. Martin Brodeur battled a bruise on his elbow for close to a month, taking extended breaks. Losing one of the top scorers and their top goalie did nothing for a team searching for positives.

With the Devils sitting at 9-22-2 on December 21, Lamoriello decided his experiment with MacLean was over. He fired the first year coach, replacing him with Jacques Lemaire. The former coach, who retired last April, entered on an interim basis and immediately lost his first three games. But he worked hard to get the team back to basics, and they entered the All-Star Break on a 6-1-1 run.

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Hero and Goat of the Devils’ First Half

January 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The New Jersey Devils, as everyone knows, are a mess this season.

Inconsistent play, injuries and terrible defense have contributed to New Jersey’s abysmal 11-29-2 record. There’s little hope in making the playoffs or even finishing with a .500 record. The Devils will most likely secure a lottery pick in the draft, their first high round pick since the 1990s.

Several players have contributed to the disappointing season thus far. Some made positive strides despite the overall team play, while others struggled. Here is The Devils’ Den heroes and goats of the Devils’ first half:

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Let’s start on a positive note, because there haven’t been too many this season. The Devils haven’t had many heroes this season. Several of the players are experiencing career-worst years. But there have been some bright spots on an otherwise dismal team. Here are my nominations for the Devils’ first-half hero:

Patrik Elias is the Devils lone All-Star representative and the "hero" of the first half of the season. Photo Credit: Chris O'Meara/AP Photo

Patrik Elias

Elias has been the Devils’ most consistent forward during the first half of the season. After a sluggish start to the season (four points in 10 games), the Devils’ left-winger picked up the pace. Elias has nine goals and 18 assists in his last 32games. He’s recorded 17 points in his last 19 games.

Elias became the Devils’ de-facto leader during the first half of the season as well. He gave the media honest answers and never held back his opinion about the team’s play. He helped quarterback the powerplay and mentor Mattias Tedenby. His leadership should earn him a shot at the vacant captaincy.

The Devils’ left-winger will be New Jersey’s lone All-Star representative. It’s a well deserved honor for Elias this season.

Honorable Mention: Johan Hedberg

Hedberg, signed to backup Martin Brodeur, played well during the first half of the season. With Brodeur struggling with injury and ineffectiveness, Hedberg stabilized the goalie position for the Devils. What looked like a depth move this summer became an important signing for Lamoriello. His numbers aren’t impressive (5-10-1, 3.04 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage), but that’s due in large part to the team’s overall play. Without Hedberg, the goalie situation would have been dire.

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Now, of course, we must name the goats of the season. You could just throw the Devils’ roster on a wall and throw darts at it to pick. Several players deserve the nod as goat. There have been pretty terrible players, but here is my goat of the first half:

Ilya Kovalchuk

I know it’s not nice to kick a guy when he’s down, but Kovalchuk has been abysmal this season. Gone are his abilities to score or be a productive forward. It seems the hockey gods are brutally punishing the left-winger for all the drama his contract caused this summer. Whether it’s posts hit, missed shots or great saves by the goalie, Kovalchuk can’t buy a goal right now.

What’s even worse is that the guy genuinely cares. It’s not a situation where he’s willing to take his money and continue his garbage play. Kovalchuk wants to score and be the offensive force he should be. But it’s just not happening for the left-winger. He’s only recorded 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) and is a minus-27 on the season. Not very Kovalchuk-like numbers, and definitely not what the Devils were expecting.

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