With the lockout done and the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We kicked things off with a look at two Northeast division teams, but today we’ll move south for our preview of the Carolina Hurricanes.
There’s a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes.
Despite missing the postseason for the third straight season, and finishing last in the Southeast Division, the Hurricanes were one of the teams itching for the lockout to end. A draft-day trade for Jordan Staal gives the team a big weapon down the middle, and the addition of sniper Alex Semin could turn into one of the best bargain signings by general manager Jim Rutherford.
Kirk Muller took over after a 4-10-2 November swoon last season, and brought the Hurricanes back from dead. At one point, the team sat just five points out of the playoffs before losing four of their last five games.
Carolina had a ton of momentum carrying them before the lockout. Can they find it again and contend for a spot in the top eight?
With the lockout all but done*, and the framework of the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We kick it off today with a look at the Boston Bruins.
The Stanley Cup hangover was alive and well in Beantown last year. After winning the organization’s first championship since the 1971-72 team, the Bruins stumbled out of the gate, finishing with the worst opening month for a defending champion since the playoff format changed in 1994.
That all changed, though, as Boston found its footing. The Bruins finished with a 49-29-4 record, winning the Northeast Division and completing a second straight 40-win, 100-point season. They lost in the quarterfinals, falling in seven games to the Washington Capitals.
The Bruins had the most overseas players during the lockout, and welcome back the likes of Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and a healthy Nathan Horton. But the big question will be in between the pipes, where Tuukka Rask takes over as the team’s number one goalie.
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.
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 Stanley-Cup champion Boston Bruins.
The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins never developed that nasty New York – Boston rivalry. Maybe it’s because of the proximity of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. It just seems like that hatred never carried over to the Bruins. Of course, that could all change this year.
The Bruins enter this season as the defending champions, giving them the target on their backs. Every team, including the Devils, will look to give them a run for their money. But their recent success isn’t great, and they haven’t fared well throughout their history.
The History Behind The Matchup
The Devils and Bruins squared off 133 times during the Devils 35-year history, with Boston dominating the matchup. New Jersey is just 47-64-3 with 19 ties, a winning percentage of just .436. They’ve allowed 448 goals, an average of 3.37 per meeting. They’ve scored 368 times, almost a full hundred goals less. It’s an average of 2.77 goals per matchup.
Boston continued their dominance last season, winning three of four against New Jersey. The two teams first met on October 16, a 4-1 win for Boston. Dainius Zubrus opened the scoring, putting the Devils ahead, 1-0, at 3:45 of the second period. But that wouldn’t last long, as Jordan Caron tied the game at 5:38 of the period. Then, the Bruins took over.
Michael Ryder put Boston ahead, 2-1, at 10:44 of the second period. Shawn Thornton made it 3-1 at 16:43 of the middle frame. Milan Lucic capped the Bruins’ outburst, stretching the lead to 4-1 at the 18:09 mark. Tim Thomas would stop 31 shots in the win, and Martin Brodeur matched that number for the loss.
Things didn’t get much better in the second meeting, a 3-0 shutout win for the Bruins on November 15 in Boston. Ryder continued to plague the Devils, opening the scoring at 15:26 of the first period. Nathan Horton made it 2-0 just 43 seconds into the second period. Not to be outdone, Blake Wheeler scored 43 seconds into the third period to push the lead to 3-0. Thomas stopped 28 shots for the win, and Brodeur stopped 21 in the loss.
Not even a change in coaches could sway the Devils luck. Boston once again beat them, 4-1, on March 22 in Boston. Ilya Kovalchuk struck first, scoring on the powerplay to put New Jersey ahead, 1-0. Thornton tied it at 15:39, and the teams entered the second period deadlocked.
Once again, the Bruins went on a goal scoring spree. Zdeno Chara put Boston ahead, 2-0, with a powerplay tally at 8:17 of the second period. Lucic extended the lead to 3-1 at 16:13 of the third period, and Mark Recchi sealed it with an empty-netter at 19:20 for the 4-1 lead.
The Devils avoided the sweep, ending their season with a 3-2 win over the Bruins. Patrik Elias opened the scoring, putting New Jersey ahead, 1-0, at 1:47 of the first period. Richard Peverley tied the game, 1-1, at 10:04 of the period. It remained tied until the third period. Vladimir Zharkov put the Devils ahead, 2-1, four minutes into the third period. Alexander Urbom scored his first career goal at 9:10 of the period, extending the lead to 3-1. That would prove crucial, as Chris Kelly scored with four seconds in regulation to bring the score to 3-2.
As the season winds down and playoff positions come into a clearer view, I’ll preview the other seven teams vying to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. We start the conference preview with the Washington Capitals, who sit atop the N.H.L. with the best record.
Washington feature’s one of the game’s best scoring threats in Alexander Ovechkin, who already has 45 goals and 97 points on the season. But the Caps aren’t a one-dimensional team. Their depth on the offensive end should be envied by most teams in the league. They have a good mix of scorers, playmakers, and grind-it-out guys. Nicklas Backstrom has recorded 88 points on the season, and role players like Mike Knuble have double-digit goal totals. The strength of their forwards is one of the best in the league and definitely gives the Caps an advantage over most teams in the conference.
The defense for the Caps is good, but not great. Mike Green is the household name, and the best Caps blueliner. He’s already recorded 70 points, and he’s a great quarterback on the Caps powerplay. But, after that, the ability falls off a bit. Deadline acquisition Joe Corv0 hasn’t been great, only netting two goals and playing to a -1 with the Caps. But the defense isn’t a glaring weakness. The Caps get solid backchecking from their forwards, and their defenseman are usually solid.
It seems like this can be the one weak area the Caps haven’t addressed. Jose Theodore, who has been hot recently, isn’t the greatest goalie in the league. He has 26 wins on the season, but he’s also allowing almost three goals a game (2.76 GAA). But Theodore’s playoff play is what dents the armor. He didn’t get the nod at all last year, with Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau electing to play Semyon Varlamov. Two years ago, Theodore allowed 20 goals in eight playoff games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2008, and suffered through a terrible series against the Detroit Red Wings. Varlamov, who seemed to be the goalie of the future, couldn’t take the number one role this season. The young goalie missed significant time due to injury, and he’s only appeared in 21 games this season. He’s 13-3-4 with two shutouts on the season.
If there’s one weakness on this team, it’s between the pipes. The Caps goaltending seems to continuously be up and down throughout the season. Right now, Theodore is hot, putting together an incredible 16-0-2 record in the past 18 games. But Theodore could easily go cold and become a subpar goalie. The Caps offense will always be able to cover a goalie’s struggle, but we’ve seen the importance of goaltending in past playoff series. Without good goaltending, a team usually doesn’t bring home Lord Stanley. The Capitals are clearly ahead of many teams, but their goaltending weakness can leave them susceptible in the postseason.
Today’s trade deadline came and went, and several teams made moves. There weren’t many earth-shattering, league-altering trades, but we rarely see those on the deadline. Instead, several teams made small moves to sure up roster spots or dump salary. Remember, several big names moved before the deadline, with Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Dion Phaneuf and Ilya Kovalchuk all moving.
There were some winners and losers at the deadline, and I’ll highlight them here:
1. Washington Capitals
The Capitals didn’t make many big names moves today, but they picked up some solid talent on the deadline. Their biggest acquisition, Joe Corvo, brings an offensive presence to the Caps blue line. The veteran doesn’t have impressive stats (four goals, eight assists, -6), but he routinely puts up above 20 points per season. The Capitals already have talented defenseman Mike Green, and Corvo could compliment him well on another defensive pairing.
The Caps also picked up gritty forwards Scott Walker (Carolina) and Eric Belanger (Minnesota Wild). Belanger brings some offensive prowess, and Walker brings toughness to the lineup. The team also re-acquired Milan Jurcina from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Washington didn’t do anything drastic, but the team added some nice pieces for the playoff run.
2. Phoenix Coyotes
For an NHL-run team, the Coyotes made a lot of noise at the deadline. Phoenix sits fifth in the Western Conference standings, but they’re only one point back from falling into a three-way tie for third place. With a young team desperate for some life, the Coyotes were the most aggressive team during the deadline. The team acquired Wojtek Wolski from Colorado, who posted 17 goals and 47 points for the Avalanche this season. He should add scoring punch to a team that only scored 169 goals this season.
Looking for help on the blue line, Phoenix acquired Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider in separate deals. Phoenix, who ranks 29th in the league with the powerplay, can use both players to help move that ranking up. Schneider was a bit of a curious pick, as he hasn’t played much for Vancouver this season.
The team also added forwards Petteri Nokelainen and Lee Stempniak for depth.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
The team didn’t do much, but they filled some holes with two acquisitions. They first acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold from the Florida Panthers for a second-round pick. The defenseman can log big minutes and brings an expiring contract.
The team’s better trade came late yesterday, when they traded for Alex Ponikarovsky. The left-winger can finish around the net, but he’s also there to set teammates up for the score. He can easily slide into the top two lines for the Penguins and produce. Like Leopold, his contract expires after the season.
4. New Jersey Devils
While today’s acquisition of Martin Skoula didn’t address their glaring issue on the blue-line, the trade for Kovalchuk puts them on this list. While Kovalchuk didn’t immediate click with the team, he seems to be settling in to the second-line with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus. The left-winger scored his second goal last night, but he also looked comfortable with the team and his linemates. Look for this deal to pay off as the Devils push towards the playoffs continues.
I only saw one clear-cut loser today, and here they are. Drumroll, please:
1. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers, who lost goalie Ray Emery for the year with a hip injury, could have bolstered their depth in net. Remember, Michael Leighton wasn’t a starter to begin the season, and Brian Boucher is a below-average goalie. A quality backup like Vesa Toskala came cheap, and the Flyers could have immediately made an impact for Philadelphia. Instead, they stand still, and now have to hope Leighton can carry them into the playoffs.
There are my winners and losers from today’s trade deadline. It’ll be interesting to see what teams moves will pay off for the remainder of the season.