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 the Boston Bruins, and we’ll continue today with a preview of the Buffalo Sabres.
Last year was supposed to be the year in Buffalo.
New owner Terry Pegula, not afraid to open up the checkbook, brought in Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr. Doling out the cash, however, didn’t match the lofty expectations fans and analysts had for this team. They spent most of the year at the bottom of the conference, and only a late-season surge saved them from being a complete bust.
On top of their struggles, opponents exposed Buffalo’s lack of grit. In the most glaring example, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic bowled over Ryan Miller in open ice, and no one on the Sabres responded.
This offseason, Pegula added that toughness, bringing in the likes of John Scott, Steve Ott. The Sabres also kept Patrick Kaleta, re-signing their in-house enforcer.
There were no changes this season despite the failure to reach the playoffs. Will this be coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier’s last chance to bring the team deep in the playoffs?
Throughout the offseason and training camp, The Devils’ Den will preview the Devils 2010-2011 schedule, giving you an in-depth preview of the 29 other teams the Devils will face next season. We’ve already completed several previews, all of which can be found under the “Season Preview” tab. In today’s preview, we go to the Eastern Conference, taking a look at this season’s matchup with the Florida Panthers.
Devils vs. Panthers – Historical Data
In 69 all-time regular season meetings against the Panthers, the Devils are 41-21-7-0. New Jersey averages 2.78 goals against Florida, and allows the Panthers to average 2.10 goals against them. Last season, the team’s squared off four times, with the team’s splitting the season series, 2-2-0.
The Devils won the first matchup of the season, 3-2, in Florida. After a scoreless first period, Rob Niedermayer opened the game’s scoring, giving the Devils a lead, 1-0, at 11:14 of the period. Rostislav Olesz pulled the Panthers even, scoring at 13:58 to tie the game at one. Travis Zajac would restore the Devils’ lead, putting New Jersey ahead, 2-1, with a powerplay goal at 17:47 of the second period.
But, once again, the Panthers would battle back. Stephen Weiss tied the game, netting a powerplay goal at 14:37 of the third period to knot the game at two. David Clarkson played the hero for New Jersey, scoring the team’s second powerplay goal at 16:25 to put the Devils ahead, 3-2.
The Panthers evened the season series on December 11, defeating the Devils, 4-2, at the Prudential Center. Jordan Leopold put the Panthers on the board first, scoring at 3:53 of the first period to put Florida ahead of New Jersey, 1-0. Michael Frolik extended the lead, putting the Panthers ahead, 2-0, at 2:24 of the second period. Shawn Matthais scored a minute later, pushing the lead to 3-0. But the Devils wouldn’t fold it in.
Brian Rolston put New Jersey on the board, scoring at 7:16 to cut Florida’s lead to 3-1. Dean McAmmond drew the Devils even closer, scoring just 1:05 into the third period to shrink the Panthers’ lead to 3-2. But the effort wouldn’t pay off, as Frolik scored the proverbial dagger at 2:23 of the third period to restore Florida’s two-goal lead which put them ahead, 4-2.
The Devils blanked Florida, 2-0, on January 20 at The Rock. It took almost two full periods, but Zajac put the Devils on the board first, scoring the game’s first goal at 18:30 of the second period to give the Devils a lead, 1-0. McAmmond iced the victory at 19:59 of the third period, tapping in a shorthanded, empty-net goal for the 2-0 lead. Martin Brodeur finished with 22 saves for the shutout win. Tomas Vokoun stopped 31 shots in the loss.
For more of the preview, read after the jump!
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (45-26-7) face off against the Atlanta Thrashers (34-32-13). This is the fourth and final meeting between the teams this season. The Devils lead the series, 2-1-0.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils defeated Carolina, 4-0, Saturday night in Raleigh. Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise and David Clarkson all tallied goals for the Devils. Martin Brodeur stopped 26 shots for his eighth shutout of the season.
The Last Thrashers Game: The Thrashers lost in overtime, 4-3, Saturday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins, trailing 3-1 in the third, received goals from Tyler Kennedy and Sergei Gonchar to tie the game. Jordan Leopold scored the overtime winner to down the Thrashers. The loss didn’t help the Thrasher’s playoff chances, as they remained 10th in the standings.
The Last Devils – Thrashers Game: The Devils defeated the Thrashers, 3-2, at the Prudential Center. Parise tallied two goals, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored against the Devils. Brodeur made 24 saves for the win.
Tonight’s Matchup: The main story dominating the headlines is the return of Kovalchuk to Atlanta. Many people are wondering whether he’ll be booed or cheered. But, according to this article by Tom Gulliti, Atlanta players hope he will be cheered. All the talk has been about Kovalchuk possibly re-signing with the Devils or going to Russia, could he come back to Atlanta, etc., etc. But Kovalchuk is excited to play against his old team. He said he doesn’t know what will happen, but something will tonight.
“I’ll do something tonight,” he said to Gulliti.
But lost in this commotion is the actual game. The Thrashers are a desperate team clinging to a slim chance at a playoff berth. They’re going to be playing desperate because, if they lose tonight and Philadelphia wins, they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The Devils will have to respond to that energy. The team played very well Saturday in Carolina. They attacked the ‘Canes, they forced turnovers and they put tough shots on goalie Cam Ward. It was their best 60 minute effort in quite some time. The ‘Canes had an off night, and I’m sure Atlanta will come out with piss and vinegar tonight.
The Devils need to respond to that energy and attack early. If they can control the tempo and the momentum, they may be able to wear the Thrashers down early. Remember, the Devils are fighting for second seed in the conference. They catch a break tonight, because the Penguins have a tough test against the Capitals. One point tonight guarantees the Devils home-ice advantage for the first round. But they shouldn’t settle for that. As I discussed earlier, the second seed looks to be the best position to get the Devils to the Eastern Conference Finals. They need to keep winning to get there.
Also lost in the shuffle is another Brodeur milestone. If the Devils’ goalie wins tonight, it will be the 600th win of his career.
Gametime is 7 p.m., and you can catch the game on MSG Plus or on the radio at WFAN.
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.