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.
The New Jersey Devils enter this year’s draft with a top 10 pick, an unusual spot for the franchise. They haven’t had a top-10 pick since 1996. The last top-10 pick to make a significant contribution was Scott Niedermayer, who came to the Devils third overall in the 1991 draft.
To kick off our draft coverage, The Devils’ Den will run down every top-10 pick the organization made. Some were wildly successful, others were pretty big busts. That’s the nature of the draft.
And here we go:
1982 Draft: Rocky Trottier – 1st round, 8th overall
The name Trottier should sound familiar – his brother, Bryan, won six Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Rocky wouldn’t emulate his brother’s success. Trottier spent most of the 1983-84 season with Medicine Hat in the WHL, recording 84 points (30 goals, 54 assists). He appeared in five with the Devils that season, recording just two points.
The Devils gave Trottier his shot during the 1984-85 season. He played in 33 games, but couldn’t find that scoring touch. He recorded just six points (four goals, two assists) and a minus-3 rating. He did attempt the first penalty shot in history on December 17, 1984, scoring against Edmonton Oilers’ goalie Andy Moog.
That season would be his last in the NHL. Trottier bounced around the AHL and played internationally before retiring after the 1989-90 season.
Other notables from the 1982 draft: Ken Daneyko (1st round, 18th overall), Pat Verbeek (3rd round, 43rd overall)
1983 Draft: John MacLean – 1st round, 6th overall
The organization made up for the bust of Trottier with the success of MacLean. He recorded 98 points with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL during the 1982-83 campaign, showing his offensive potential. He lasted just 30 games with the Generals during the 1983-84 season before earning a call-up. His debut didn’t wow people – in 23 games, he scored one goal – but he would ultimately find success.
MacLean became one of the most accomplished scorers in team history. He recorded three-straight 40 goal seasons (1988-1991) and finished the franchise leader in goals (347). On April 3, 1988, MacLean scored an overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, clinching the first postseason berth in franchise history. While he didn’t work out as the team’s coach, MacLean was one of the team’s best picks.
Other notables from the 1983 draft: Chris Terreri (5th round, 85th overall), Viacheslav Fetisov (8th round, 145th overall)
1984 Draft: Kirk Muller – 1st round, 2nd overall
The Devils drafted another great forward in 1984. Muller, drafted behind Mario Lemieux, became one of the best to wear the Devils’ sweater. “Captain Kirk” debuted during the 1984-85 season after recording 94 points in just 49 games for the Guelph Platers of the OHL in 1983-84. Muller made an immediate impact, leading the team with 80 games played. He also recorded 54 points, a solid number for a rookie.
He continued to improve year after year. He set a record for points by a center with 94 during the 1987-88 season, a mark that still stands today. He finished below 70 points twice in his Devils’ career. Unfortunately, the team never seriously contended for the Stanley Cup. They traded Captain Kirk to the Montreal Canadiens, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1993.
Other notables from the 1984 draft: Craig Billington (2nd round, 23rd overall), Kirk McLean (6th round, 107th overall), Mike Peluso (10th round, 190th overall)
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.
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 Mattias Tedenby.
For the past few seasons, many New Jersey Devils fans heard about a short right-winger with unlimited scoring potential. Mattias Tedenby, known to many as one of the two great Swedes in the organization, finally got his chance with the Devils this season. In his first full season, we saw the Devils’ future on full display.
Tedenby immediately showed off his offensive potential, scoring a goal in only his second career game. He continued his strong play, converting his first career penalty shot against Braden Holtby and the Capitals on November 22. It continued throughout the month, with him collecting six points in November. John MacLean put him on the second line, where he drew rave reviews from Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias. But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine for the young Swede.
When Jacques Lemaire took over the team, Tedenby couldn’t crack the lineup. Already struggling to score, Lemaire decided to scratch him for six straight games. The right-winger needed to improve his play, including his defense, to crack the lineup. When he finally returned, on January 17 against the New York Islanders, he made his presence felt, scoring the game-winning goal.
It was a rollercoaster season for Tedenby. At times he flashed his offensive potential, but he seemed to disappear at times. He couldn’t consistently produce offense, and he rotated between the third and fourth lines. It was only his first year playing hockey in North America, so to expect him to produce like Jeff Skinner would be irrational. All in all, it was a solid debut for the Devils’ rookie.
Tedenby At Even Strength
Playing on the bottom two lines for most of the season didn’t get Tedenby much ice time. He only averaged 12:32 minutes per game, the lowest among rookies with at least 40 games played. Despite not playing much, he managed to produce 1.38 points per 60 and record a plus-0.87 rating. It helped that his quality of teammates (plus-0.069) were better than the quality of his competition (minus-0.032).
While at even strength, Tedenby became a solid offensive weapon. The Devils averaged 2.07 goals for per 60 (21 total), third among rookie skaters with at least 40 games played. He posted that number despite playing on the third and fourth lines, a testament to that offensive potential. Off the ice, the goals for per 60 dropped to 1.76. Shots for per 60 followed a similar pattern. With Tedenby on the ice, New Jersey averaged 27.1 shots per 60. Off the ice, that number dropped to 24.7.
Tedenby’s defensive improvements, coupled with his position in the lineup, helped him finish with positive even strength defensive numbers. While on the ice, teams averaged 1.77 goals against per 60 and 24.5 shots against per 60. The goal numbers rose with him off the ice. Goals against per 60 climbed to 2.34, giving Tedenby a negative off-ice plus/minus rating of minus-0.58. The shot numbers dipped slightly to 22.8 per 60.
A look at the Corsi numbers further prove Tedenby’s solid play. Tedenby’s 5.81 rating put him among the top ten of skaters with 50 or more games played. That rating dropped to 3.91 with him off the ice. Tedenby helped his team produce offense, creating almost two more shots per shift while spending less than 13 minutes a game on the ice. It’s exciting to see him produce in limited minutes. Hopefully that production will continue to rise when he gains a more important role on the ice.
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.
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.
The lightbulb seems to have clicked for the New Jersey Devils.
In their past four games, the Devils are 3-0-1, capturing seven out of a possible eight points. They’ve scored 18 goals in that span, suddenly finding the goal in bunches. They’ve also only allowed opponents 10 goals against, a testament to the improved defense.
Individuals have also played better. Ilya Kovalchuk netted five goals in his last nine games. Martin Brodeur‘s play is drastically improved. Even rookies Nick Palmieri and Mattias Tedenby have provided secondary scoring.
All of these things contribute to the Devils’ recent surge. While it probably will not lead to a playoff berth, it’s a sign that this team wasn’t the dumpster fire we thought it was. With several factors contributing to the team’s success, I’d like to give each one an individual look.
1. Finally, some offense!
The Devils’ offense this season has been terrible. With scorers like Kovalchuk, Jason Arnott and Zach Parise struggling, the Devils sputtered out of the gate. In their first 45 games, New Jersey has recorded one goal or less in 22 of them. That’s almost half a season’s worth of offensive futility.
The past four games has showcased the scoring expected from this roster. The Devils are scoring in every situation, and while the powerplay is scuffling, the offense looks better. Players are creating scoring chances and settling into their roles. Linemates are adjusting to each other and developing chemistry, an important part of creating any successful offense.
Kovalchuk credited his increased scoring to his chemistry with Travis Zajac.
“Before that, I got some chances, but they just didn’t go in,” Kovalchuk said to Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “Now, overall we’re playing better. That is why. My linemates they create way more room for me and it looks like it’s clicking. We’ve got a lot of opportunities and we scored some goals.”
Of course, if those lines fail, head coach Jacques Lemaire will change them without question. Hopefully he keeps these lines, because they’ve proved they can work.
2. Lemaire’s Return
When Lemaire left last season, most Devils’ fans were shoving him out the door. We were tired of the constant line juggling, fractured locker room and poor play. The abysmal playoff series last year only fueled the dislike for the coach.
The hiring of John MacLean brought optimism and a promise of a reinvigorated offense. All that optimism disappeared with the Devils’ struggles. To bring this team back, Lou Lamoriello turned to Lemaire, and his interim stint has brought a confidence and swagger back to New Jersey.
Zajac believed that, since Lemaire took over, the team’s play dramatically improved.
“I don’t know if it’s anything different,” the Devils’ center told Gulitti. “I think our system play is a little better 5-on-5. We’re playing more as a five-man unit, defensively, offensively and started scoring some goals, so we’re getting some confidence. You’re starting to see guys getting excited now scoring and going to the tough areas. When you have that confidence and it’s fun playing and you want to score goals and you’re going to win more games. Obviously we have nothing to lose, so we’re just playing right now.”
Lemaire believes a simple shift in play helped the team improve.
“The guys are playing hard,” Lemaire said to Gulitti. “The guys are playing together. They believe they can do it a little more. They’re skating and they want to succeed.”
Lemaire has free reign of the team, since he’s only the interim coach. But he’s instilled confidence in his players and brought the Devils out of the doldrums. They won’t make the playoffs, but at least they are respectable.
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.
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.
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.”