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Devils 2011-2012 Schedule Preview: Buffalo Sabres

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Kovalchuk led the Devils to their only win against the Buffalo Sabres this season. Photo Credit: Bill Wippert/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 Buffalo Sabres.

Usually, the Buffalo Sabres stay out of the limelight during the offseason. But since late last year, the only successful team from the Buffalo area made a ton of noise. First, billionaire Terry Pegula purchased the team, brining a wealthy owner to a usually frugal team. They made some noise in the playoffs, but lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. That would be one of their only disappointments.

With Pegula backing the team, Buffalo went on an offseason spending spree. They became, for the first time in recent memory, big spenders. Nobody was surprised; Pegula promised to pay for a quality team. An already good team added some key pieces. It’ll be a different team on the ice taking on New Jersey this season.

The History Behind The Matchup

The Devils have faced the Sabres 132 times, and haven’t fared well against them. New Jersey is 47-65-3 with 17 ties, allowing 448 goals against, or 3.39 goals per game. They’ve only scored 380 goals against Buffalo, good for 2.88 goals per game.

The two teams faced off four times last season, with New Jersey compiling a 1-2-1 record. They first met on October 13 in a game that became a duel between Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller. Both goalies stood on their heads, matching each other save for save. In overtime, rookie Matt Taormina set up Ilya Kovalchuk for a game-winning one-timer deep in the Sabres zone. The puck rang off the crossbar before finding it’s way to the back of the net. That marked the first win of John MacLean’s coaching career. Too bad he wouldn’t lead the team to many more.

Buffalo evened the series just 10 days later, blowing out the Devils, 6-1, at the Prudential Center. Drew Stafford started the scoring, giving Buffalo a 1-0 lead at 6:57 of the first period. Tyler Myers extended the lead to 2-0 at 16:33 of the opening frame. They poured it on in the second period, scoring three times. Tyler Ennis pushed the Sabres’ lead to 3-0 at 3:10 of the middle period. Patrick Kaleta stretched the lead to four at 8:17 of the period, chasing starter Johan Hedberg.

Brodeur couldn’t stop the bleeding. Thomas Vanek made it 5-0 at 18:12. Vanek scored again in the third period, making it 6-0. Zach Parise broke the shutout, scoring at 11:25 of the period. Miller finished with 26 saves. The game was more known for the infamous benching of Kovalchuk.

The teams played another high scoring game on November 10, with Buffalo winning, 5-4, in a shootout. Jason Arnott opened the scoring, putting the Devils ahead, 1-0, at 10:12 of the first period. That lead wouldn’t last. Jason Pominville tied the game, 1-1, at 5:22 of the second period. Derek Roy wasted no time in giving Buffalo the lead, scoring 13 seconds later to give his team a 2-1 advantage. The Devils answered right back. David Clarkson tied the game, 2-2, at 7:58 of the middle period. Arnott struck again, giving the Devils a 3-2 lead at 12:01.

The see-saw battle would continue. Myers evened the score, 3-3, at 13:50 of the second period. Jamie Langenbrunner responded, putting the Devils ahead, 4-3, at 18:01 of the second period. New Jersey once again failed to hold their lead. Ennis tied the game at four at 8:54 of the third period. Both teams moved to the shootout, where Vanek and Langenbrunner both scored. Roy put his team ahead, and set up one of the worst moments for Kovalchuk this season:

Jhonas Enroth stopped 28 shots for the win. Hedberg stopped 38 in the loss.

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Devils 2011-2012 Schedule Preview: Anaheim Ducks

July 26, 2011 1 comment

Patrik Elias scored the game-winning goal in the team's lone game against the Anaheim Ducks last season. Photo Credit: Harry Howe/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. 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.

Stat Pack

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 2010-2011 Player Review: Nick Palmieri

Palmieri, slotted on the top line, meshed well with both Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac. 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 Nick Palmieri.

Heading into the 2010-2011 regular season, Nick Palmieri found himself a mere name among the New Jersey Devils’ prospects. The rookie right-winger, who played in six regular season games during the 2009-10 campaign, found himself buried underneath new rookie faces like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson. Being overlooked wasn’t a surprise, as Palmieri managed just one assist in that brief stint with the Devils. But he totalled 36 points, including 21 goals, with the Lowell Devils. The organization knew the talent was there, and Palmieri rewarded them for their trust.

Palmieri’s presence helped fill a major hole on the team’s first line. After the trade of Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey needed a right-winger to move up to the top spot. In came Palmieri, who developed chemistry quickly with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk. He scored the “dirty goals,” crashing the net and battling for pucks in the corners. He collected 17 points in 43 games, becoming an important piece of the team’s offense. Like rookie counterpart Mark Fayne, Palmieri exceeded expectations last season, helping stabilize the top line and providing solid secondary scoring.

Palmieri At Even Strength

Palmieri helped generate offense on the ice, outproducing several veteran players. After his call-up on December 30, the rookie right-winger averaged 14:19 of ice time. He made the most of his limited opportunities, compiling a plus-0.40 rating. Surprisingly, he finished in the green despite his quality of teammates (minus-0.006) ranking lower than the quality of competition (plus-0.029).

Palmieri was one of the few players to make a positive on-ice impact during even strength. On the ice, New Jersey averaged 2.54 goals for per 60 (25 total) against 1.73 goals against per 60 (17 total). His on-ice plus/minus of plus-0.81 ranked first among skaters with 40-plus games played. Off the ice, all three numbers declined. Goals for per 60 dropped to 2.03, and the goals against per 60 dropped to 1.62. His off-ice plus/minus rating also fell to plus-0.41.

For all his help producing offense, Palmieri didn’t effectively create or defend shots. While on the ice, the team averaged just 22.9 shots for per 60. Opponents were able to put 23.1 shots on net. Off the ice, the offensive shot numbers improved.  New Jersey 24.7 shots for per 60, but still allowed 23.7.

The Corsi ratings exemplify Palmieri’s effectiveness. On the ice, Palmieri collected a plus-3.20 Corsi. It’s not a large number, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Playing with the top line helped improve this number, but he contributed as well. He managed to put 66 shots on net, which isn’t easy considering the talent around him. Off the ice, the rating declined to plus-2.54. The split isn’t huge, but it shows the positive impact Palmieri brought on the ice. He wasn’t a game changer, but he provided some solid play.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Patrik Elias

May 15, 2011 1 comment

Patrik Elias led all New Jersey Devils skaters with 62 points this season. 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. In today’s review, we focus on Patrik Elias.

Patrik Elias entered his 15th season looking to rebound. During an injury-filled 2009-2010 season, Elias collected his lowest point total (48) since the 2005-06 season, and he only suited up for 58 games. The trade to re-acquire Jason Arnott made that goal even easier to reach. With John MacLean taking over and promising a more up-tempo style, the pieces for Elias all seemed to fall into place.

Things, as we know, didn’t go according to plan. But with everything falling apart, Elias continued to produce. He was the only Devils’ player selected to the All-Star game, the third of his career and first since the 2001-2002 season. He finished first in assists (41) and second in goals (21). He stepped up and became the de-facto team leader, answering every tough questions time and time again. After the team dealt Jamie Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars, I argued the team should give Elias the captaincy.

Elias finished the first half of the season as the Devils’ best player. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk’s amazing second half, respect needs to go to the Devils’ center. He stepped up when his team needed him the most. It was a great bounce back year for Elias, and arguably was the team’s best player.

Elias At Even Strength

Elias continued his strong two-way play this past season. We all know he’s penciled in on the second line every season, but it’s usually a question of where. He split time on both the left-wing and center this season, transitioning back into the center position as the season wore on. That didn’t hurt his production, as his rating of plus-0.58 put him fourth on the team. Playing within the top six forwards allowed him to average 2.13 points per 60. That quality of teammates (plus-0.081) outweighed that of opponents (plus-0.049), a rarity this season.

Elias played a huge role in producing even-strength offense this season. On the ice, he helped the team produce 2.68 goals per 60 (48 total), tops among all skaters. He also helped put pucks on net, bumping the Devils shots for per 60 average to 27.9, also tops among all skaters. Off the ice, those numbers dropped. The team averaged 1.58 goals for per 60 with him off the ice, and the shots for per 60 dropped to 25.6.

As expected, Elias continued his strong defensive play. The goals against per 60 didn’t look so good, as the team allowed 2.68 goals against with him on the ice. Off the ice, that number dropped to 2.16. However, he did help limit shot opportunities. On the ice, teams averaged 20.6 shots per 60. Off the ice, that number rose to 24.2, almost a four shot increase.

The Corsi numbers show the balanced, two-way skill of Elias. On the ice, his Corsi rating of plus-14.09 led all skaters. He not only helped produce shots and scoring opportunities, but limited opponents chances. Off the ice, the Corsi tumbled to plus-0.92. That difference was the biggest drop among all skaters. If his production on both ends was ever in doubt, the Corsi helps to prove his value. It was yet another successful season at even strength for Elias.

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The 2010-2011 Season Review: Langenbrunner Shipped To The Stars

May 8, 2011 3 comments

After the trade, Langenbrunner tallied 18 points in 39 games for the Stars as they missed the playoffs. Photo Credit: Christian Peterson/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils entered January in an unfamiliar position this past season – dead last in the NHL. The team, struggling so mightly during the first half, knew their chances at a playoff shot were slim. So the organization went into seller mode, looking to make a few early deals. The captain would be the first to go.

Jamie Langenbrunner was one of the best candidates to leave New Jersey. His production wasn’t meeting the expectations of a first-line winger, putting up just 14 points in 31 games. He carried a cap hit of $2.8 million, a large amount for the cash-strapped Devils. Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello committed to giving younger players more ice time, pushing Langenbrunner’s powerplay and penalty time down.

Last but not least, Langenbrunner and interim head coach Jacques Lemaire had a contentious relationship. It began last season, when Lemaire sat Langenbrunner during a meaningless game against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 3. Langenbrunner wanted to play all 82 games, and Lemaire wanted to rest his captain before the playoffs. That incident seemed to divide the locker room, and the Devils’ performance suffered. Lemaire’s return put the writing on the wall.

The Devils traded Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars on January 7, receiving a conditional third-round pick in this season’s draft. The terms of the agreement can change depending on whether or not the Stars re-sign Langenbrunner before July 1. The Stars received a proven veteran leader for their playoff push, and the Devils cleared space on the roster.

The trade worked out for New Jersey. They began their second-half run after the trade, pushing themselves into the playoff discussion without a defined captain. Brian Rolston moved into the top-six forwards and produced numbers worthy of his $5.2 million cap hit. Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby saw extended playing time because of the open roster spot. The team finally found consistency in their top two lines, something not seen during the first three months of the season.

Langenbrunner produced for the Stars as well. In 39 games, he put up 18 points and scored a game-winning goal. The team fell short of the playoffs, but Langenbrunner far surpassed the conditional pick sent to the Devils.

By the end of his Devils tenure, Langenbrunner lost the popular support of the fan base. Many called him out for his perceived attitude problems. Others lamented his declining production. Since taking the captaincy from Patrik Elias, he never helped the team reach the second round of the playoffs. Not only that, but his deteriorating relationship with Lemaire submarined the Devils playoff performance last season.

In the end, both parties got what they wished. The Devils earned cap space and found new production throughout the lineup. Langenbrunner went to a contender in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. The trade worked out on both sides, with no one losing.

The 2010-2011 Season Review: Lemaire Resurrects The Devils

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Jacques Lemaire turned around what seemed to be a lost season, going 29-17-3 after taking over on December 23. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils were dead in the water.

With the calendar creeping toward 2011, New Jersey found themselves in uncommon territory – the basement of the league. They sat behind notoriously bad teams like the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders. The team’s goal differential was terrible, their overall play atrocious, and new coach John MacLean looked helpless behind the bench.

With a measly 9-22-2 record, Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello mercifully pulled the plug on the MacLean experiment. He fired the first-year coach on December 23, replacing him with Jacques Lemaire. What, Lemaire? You mean, the same Lemaire who supposedly lost the locker room last season? The one who had a not-so-private rift with team captain Jamie Langenbrunner? It seemed like a terrible choice at the time, especially with the Devils returning a nearly-identical roster.

Who knew that, in the end, it would be one of the best decisions this past season?

Greg Wyshynksi from Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog brought up the possibility of a turnaround under their former coach. Here’s what he wrote the day Lamoriello made the change:

Maybe there’s a warped sense that a new voice behind the bench could get the defense organized, de-age Brodeur, get Kovalchuk rolling (he played well offensively under Lemaire, comparatively) and miraculously rally the team to a playoff spot.

Maybe the Devils break off a winning streak as long as their losing streaks, get Zach Parise back and watch as Lemaire pulls off the biggest turnaround in recent memory, filling the stands at the Rock that were sure to be empty had the team tanked.

Lemaire managed to do all those things, resurrecting a team that looked dead in the water.

His tenure started unceremoniously, losing three straight games by a combined 17-3. Lemaire worked diligently, getting his team back to basics. He criticized the team for being out of shape, working the players hard in practice. He stressed team defense, getting the forwards to commit to backchecking. He moved players around, finding a few combinations that work. Lamoriello traded Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars, eliminating the biggest malcontent from last season.

With the team searching for answers, they adopted Lemaire’s changes. And, wouldn’t you know, they turned it around. Before the All-Star Break, the Devils went 6-1-1. Their strong play continued in the second half, with New Jersey turning in a performance to remember. They ripped off a 23-3-2 streak that put them within six points of a playoff spot heading into a game against the Ottawa Senators on March 17. It seemed like the resurrection would lead to a miraculous playoff berth.

The Cinderella ending, however, wouldn’t come. Instead of surging to the finish line, Lemaire’s team limped home with a 5-7-1 record in their final 12 games. The ending wasn’t expected, but neither was the second half run.

Lemaire finished the season with a 29-17-3 mark, bringing the Devils to within one game of a NHL-.500 record. That feat in itself deserves praise, as the Devils sat nowhere near that mark in December. He made New Jersey relevant again, and brought the team and its fans on the ride of their lives.

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Elias Should Be Devils’ Captain

January 11, 2011 3 comments

When the New Jersey Devils traded Jamie Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars on January 7, they traded away more than their right winger. Langenbrunner served as captain for two-plus seasons, and his departure signified the end of his leadership.

Since the trade, the Devils have left the captaincy open. Coach Jacques Lemaire hasn’t considered a replacement, and he’s considered leaving the captaincy vacant for the remainder of the season.

If he decides to name a captain, Patrik Elias deserves to wear the “C”. The left-winger, who became the Devils’ first European-born captain during the 2006, is the clear leader in the locker room. Giving him that responsibility will credit him for his leadership and bridge the gap to a new coach.

Patrik Elias, first on the team in points, should become the Devils' captain for the remainder of the season. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Throughout the first half of the season, Elias stepped up and became the de-facto captain of the Devils. He faced the press after every tough loss, answering all of their questions. He held nothing back, giving unfiltered answers to the Devils’ issues. It was a refreshing change from the lethargic Langenbrunner, who gave non-descript answers to the press.

Elias’ candor wasn’t merely a front for the media. On the ice, you could see Elias take control of play. Even with Zajac manning the point on the powerplay, Elias still controlled play from the side boards. He helped Mattias Tedenby adjust to the NHL and leads the team in points.

His play shows Elias’ leadership ability. Always a point-getter, Elias built this season’s 30 points on assists (21). He continually puts his nose to the grindstone and plays hard. It’s cliche to say, but it doesn’t seem like Elias takes a play off. His on-ice demeanor exemplifies how captains should conduct themselves during games.

Off the ice, Elias has earned the respect of his teammates. Jason Arnott believes he’s been the Devils’ best player this season.

“I think he’s been our best player this year, our most consistent,” Arnott told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “He works hard every night and leads by example. He’s playing just solid for us.”

It’s not a secret – Zach Parise will one day be the Devils’ captain. But with the left-winger rehabbing a knee injury, he can’t assume those responsibilities. The responsibility, therefore, should fall to Elias. He’s already proved he can captain the team. During the 2006-07 campaign, the Devils went 49-24-9 and reached the conference semi-finals. The Devils’ left-winger understands Devils hockey and what it takes to win a championship. Even in a lost season, reinforcing those principles will help the franchise in future seasons.

Lemaire may not name a captain this season. But if he does, then Elias should wear the “C.”