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Game 8 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders

New Jersey Devils vs New York Islanders

Sunday, February 3rd – 3:00 PM
TV: MSG
Radio: Bloomberg 1130 AM

Match-up

This Sunday matinee, in what is definitely the most anticipated sporting event of the day, will feature the visiting New Jersey Devils (3-1-3, 9 points) and the host New York Islanders (4-2-1, 9 points). The Islanders will be playing their second straight game against the Devils and the Devils will be playing their second straight game against the Islanders. Wait, what? Penguins? When did the Devils play the Penguins yesterday??

The Devils defeated the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Opening Night, 2-1, but the Isles returned the favor in overtime at the Prudential Center just a few nights ago, 5-4.

Devils:

There are two ways of looking at what has gone on recently: the Devils had their 12-game regular season unbeaten streak (in regulation) snapped yesterday by the Penguins or the Devils lost their fourth straight game, 5-1, in a game that wasn’t really competitive. Of course, both perspectives are accurate, but it seems many fans have chosen the latter. Before you start panicking too much, or if you already have perhaps calm down a bit, remember that this team has barely been together for three weeks. They have had limited practice, no pre-season and most Devils were not playing in the AHL or overseas during the lockout. And while most NHL teams were on the golf course last May and June, the Devils were busy playing in some pretty important games. So maybe it isn’t time to panic just yet.

Good teams find ways to overcome adversity and bounce back from a bad game. Any way you look at it, yesterday was a bad game for the Devils. The 5-1 final score was a fair indicator of play throughout the game. The Devils didn’t do much of anything offensively and they were quite messy defensively. It doesn’t take a highly paid expert analyst or rocket scientist to realize that not scoring and not preventing your opponent from scoring is not going to lead to much success.

But let’s forget the past. Somehow, the Devils need to find a way to get off to a better start. Poor first periods have hampered the team all season, even when they were winning the first three games. The stellar goaltending of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg covered some of the team’s flaws early on, but the law of averages seemed to catch to them yesterday. Perhaps the law of averages will catch up to the Devils, and they’ll put some pucks in the Islanders’ net today.

There’s a very good chance that by the time this preview gets posted, Pete DeBoer will have confirmed whether or not Bobby Butler will play today. Assuming he will, it will be his Devils’ debut, as the AHL All-Star was re-called from Albany last night. Perhaps adding Butler to the lineup can spark the team offensively a bit.

Islanders:

The Islanders haven’t played since beating the Devils on Thursday night in New Jersey. They beat the Penguins before, so this is a high-scoring team that is on a roll right now. With the Islanders scoring and winning like this, it’s like the 1980s all over again…minus the four straight championships. For now, at least…

The key to the Islanders’ success this season has been their remarkable play on special teams, similar to how the Devils found success last season. Thursday’s game was a perfect case and point: they scored three power play goals on four chances, including the bizarre overtime winner and killed all of the Devils’ power plays.

Leading the team offensively is young star John Tavares, which should be no surprise. He scored two goals and added a helper on Thursday, and will figure to be a huge factor in today’s contest as well. Despite Tavares’ team-leading 11 points, offense has come from multiple sources this season on Long Island. Five Islanders have three or more goals already this season.

Keys to victory:

Many of the keys to victory have already been highlighted above, including getting off to a good start and special teams. In three of the Devils’ four losses this season, not only have they allowed the first goal of the game, they’ve actually trailed 2-0 in all three of them. Scoring first would be a good idea for the Devils today. Scoring first could relax the whole team, and they might score again second, third, fourth, fifth and so on!

Another key would certainly be the special teams battle. The Islanders definitely dominated on special teams Thursday. Their power play completely schooled the Devils all night and the Devils were unable to respond on their power play chances. The Devils have been shaky on both ends of special teams this season, despite their strong special teams last season.

The final key is to outscore the opposition, but that’s obvious and you knew that already. The Devils must score goals at all costs short of throwing hot dogs at the opposing goalie (if you don’t get that reference, please Google it!).

Projected line combinations (subject to change up until puck drop, and after that too):

Devils:

Zubrus – Henrique – Kovalchuk

Elias – Zajac – Clarkson

Carter – Gionta – Bernier

Barch – Josefson – Butler*

Tallinder – Zidlicky

Salvador – Volchenkov

Greene – Larsson

Hedberg

Brodeur

Islanders:

Moulson – Tavares – Okposo

Grabner – Nielsen – Boyes

Ullstrom – Aucoin – (unknown player)

Martin – Reasoner – Boulton

Strait – Streit

McDonald – Hamonic

Finley – Carkner

Nabokov

DiPietro

Devils hire Stevens and Shaw to fill assistant coaching vacancies

Scott StevensNo matter what they do for an organization, it’s extremely difficult to replace a pair of Hall of Famers when they leave.  That’s exactly what Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello was faced with upon the departures of assistant coaches Adam Oates and Larry Robinson.  Oates moved on for an opportunity to be a head coach in the NHL with the Washington Capitals, while Larry Robinson moved to the west coast and the San Jose Sharks, where he can spend time with his grandchildren.

Both Oates and Robinson will be extremely difficult to replace.  Oates was hired by the Devils as an assistant coach, specifically to run the power play, for the 2010-11 season.  Unfortunately, the power play, like the entire team for much of the season’s first half, did not work well at all.  It ranked among the bottom three teams in the league for most of the season, and the Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996, despite a surge in the second half.  Oates dramatically turned the power play around this past season, especially in the second half of the season.  The Devils finished 14th overall for the season, although it operated at over a 20% rate once the Devils acquired Kurtis Foster, and eventually Marek Zidlicky.

Larry Robinson, on the other hand, has been with the Devils for most of the past two decades.  He first came aboard in 1993 as an assistant coach, and was on the coaching staff for the Devils’ first Stanley Cup championship in 1995.  After the 1994-95 season, Robinson went to Los Angeles as a head coach, but returned to New Jersey as an assistant in 1999.  Between 1999 and 2012, Robinson was an assistant coach, head coach, back to assistant coach and continued to go back and forth several times, but he was a part of all three Stanley Cup championships, including winning in 2000 as the interim head coach.  More recently, Robinson worked with the Devils’ young defensemen, such as Mark Fayne and Adam Larsson.

Replacing Oates will be former San Jose assistant Matt Shaw.  This hiring by Lou Lamoriello surprised many, although there was not a lot of speculation as to who might replace Oates initially.  When Lou Lamoriello invited Sergei Brylin to be an assistant for development camp, which is going on right now, many figured he and Stevens would get the roles, but instead, Matt Shaw has been hired.  Shaw was the mastermind of San Jose’s second-ranked power play in the NHL last season.  Only the Flyers scored more power play goals in the NHL last season than the Sharks.  The Devils are hoping that Shaw can continue to get power play goal production out of Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored 10 such goals last season, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson, who scored eight each.

While Shaw will be running the power play, Scott Stevens will handle the defense.  The Hall of Fame defenseman, 13-time All-Star and captain of all three Stanley Cup championships with the Devils, Stevens will assume Robinson’s role and look to mentor the young defensemen the Devils have coming through the organization.  In addition to Fayne and Larsson, defensemen such as Eric Gelinas, Alexander Urbom, Jonathan Merrill, Brandon Burlon, Damon Severson and others figure to be NHL ready within the next few seasons.  Stevens will hope to improve upon the Devils’ ninth best team goals against average in the NHL from last season.

So with Shaw and Stevens added, the Devils have completed their coaching staff for the 2012-13 season.  Peter DeBoer will enter his second season as head coach of the team, while Dave Barr, who ran the NHL’s best penalty kill in the modern era last season, will also return for his second season and Chris Terreri will continue to coach the goaltenders.  Hopefully, with Barr’s expertise on the penalty kill and Shaw’s brilliance with the San Jose power play last season, special teams will be a strength of the Devils moving forward, and with Scott Stevens working with the defensemen, it figures to be quite difficult to score goals against the Devils next season.

Is it October yet?

SCF Game 6 Recap: Five minutes put an end to the Devils’ comeback

2012 Stanley Cup Finals, New Jersey Devils vs LA Kings

This isn’t the way I was hoping to prepare my final recap of the season.  I was hoping that we’d be celebrating something incredible on Wednesday night, but clearly, it was not meant to be this season.  After a pair of hard-fought victories by the Devils in Games 4 and 5, their season and the NHL season came to an abrupt halt on Monday night, as the Kings won their first Stanley Cup championship in their nearly half-century of existence.  Here’s how it all went down on Monday.

Read the rest of this entry

SCF Game 5 Recap: Devils’ win ends Kings road dominance

2012 Stanley Cup Finals, New Jersey Devils vs LA KingsThree stars of the game:

3rd star: Justin Williams (Goal)

2nd star: Bryce Salvador (Game-winning goal)

1st star: Martin Brodeur (25 saves)

The recipe for success in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals has been pretty simple for both teams: score the first goal, win face-offs and out-hit the opposition.  That’s easier said than done, of course.  For the second straight game, the Devils were able to accomplish all three of those things en route to their second win of the series.  They’re back in it now, though still down 3-2 to the Kings.  The Devils’ 2-1 victory in Game 5 makes them just the third team in the history of best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals series to win at least two games after trailing, 3-0.

Pete DeBoer was hoping that his team would get off to a good start in Game 5, but that wasn’t the case early in the first period.  Instead, it was the Kings who controlled play and had a majority of scoring chances early on.  The game started off at an incredible pace, and the visitors nearly took a lead.  After a turnover by Dainius Zubrus in his own zone, Justin Williams hit the post behind Martin Brodeur and Stephen Gionta’s diving effort broke up a chance for Slava Voynov.  That’s when Willie Mitchell was sent off for a questionable penalty call, and the Devils went on a power play.

They nearly scored on a tic-tac-toe designed play, as Zach Parise fed Travis Zajac in the slot.  Zajac’s shot trickled through Jonathan Quick, but sat on the goal line before the Kings cleared the crease.  Parise then missed a pass directed at Patrik Elias, but Jonathan Quick, who tried to get the puck to his defenseman, but turned it over to Parise, and the Devils’ captain stuffed it past Quick for a 1-0 lead.  The goal seemed to spark the Devils, as their overall play elevated after the goal was scored.

The Devils played a better second period, as they started to control the puck for longer periods of time.  However, early in the second period, Williams split the Devils’ defense and wristed a hard shot from the slot stick-side on Brodeur to tie the game.  Williams nearly scored again on the ensuing Kings’ power play, but Brodeur warmed to the task.  Halfway through the period, the Devils got back on top.  Alexei Ponikarovsky skated up to the right point, and fed Bryce Salvador on the left side.  Salvador hesitated, then released a long wrist shot, that re-directed off Voynov’s body, through David Clarkson’s screen and past Quick, who overplayd the shot.  The Devils took a 2-1 lead and held off another Kings’ power play to close out the period, as well as a Jarret Stoll attempt that was tipped into the net with a high-stick, therefore washed out.

Los Angeles picked up their game in the third period, and Brodeur played his best as well.  The Devils did some good things, as they played well in their own end and eventually got some strong forechecking from Gionta’s line and Zajac’s line.  Most importantly, they kept the Kings off the scoreboard.  Alec Martinez had a chance on a rebound that got a piece of the goal post early in the third period.  Momentum shifted a bit when Dustin Brown held Henrik Tallinder’s hockey stick, putting the Devils on a power play.  They didn’t score, in fact the Kings nearly did, but Marek Zidlicky eliminated Mike Richards to negate the scoring chance, and then Quick made a strong glove save on Ilya Kovalchuk at the other end.

Late in the third period, Dustin Penner and Ponikarovsky went off for coincidental roughing minors in the Kings’ zone, so the Kings had a chance to tie the game, 4-on-4 and then once they pulled Quick, a 5-on-4 advantage.  They came close, but the Devils survived and took Game 5 by a 2-1 score.

Brodeur’s strong play consisted of much of the talk from the Devils’ perspective after the game.  In every series, there’s always at least one game that the goaltender needs to steal.  Perhaps Game 5 was that game for Brodeur and his Devils.  DeBoer acknowledged that the first period especially wasn’t how the Devils wanted to play, but they got the job done and won the game.

Bryce Salvador’s offensive emergence in the playoffs continues, as he scored his fourth goal of the playoffs after not scoring at all in the regular season.  Salvador is tied with Drew Doughty (yes, that Drew Doughty) as the highest-scoring defenseman in the playoffs this year.  Alexei Ponikarovsky has also come up big for the Devils.  He set up Salvador’s eventual game-winning goal, making it the fifth point on a game-winning goal for Ponikarovsky this postseason.  Henrik Tallinder also recorded nearly 20 minutes of ice time in his second game back from his blood clot.

SCF Game 4 Recap: Devils put the brooms back in the closet

2012 Stanley Cup Finals, New Jersey Devils vs LA Kings(headline by @radametz)

Three stars of the game:

3rd star: Martin Brodeur (21 saves)

2nd star: Drew Doughty (Goal)

1st star: Adam Henrique (Game-winning goal)

There’s been a theme in these playoffs for the Devils: resiliency and clutch scoring from Adam Henrique.  Those two factors surfaced once again, as the Devils fought off elimination and beat the Kings, 3-1.  They now trail the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, 3-1.  Both teams will now travel 3,000 miles for Game 5 in New Jersey on Saturday night, where the Devils will look to end the Kings’ dominance on the road.  Here’s how they got it done on Wednesday night.

The Devils didn’t get off to the start they were hoping for, as Zach Parise took a penalty just three minutes into the game.  The Kings’ power play had been dormant until Game 3, when it produced a pair of goals.  Martin Brodeur and the Devils stood tall, as Marty juggling, yet held onto a point shot from Alec Martinez.  Brodeur was forced to make three saves on the Kings’ first power play.  Shortly after, the Devils had just about four minutes of power play time, on two separate penalties by the Kings.  They couldn’t get anything going on the first chance, but started to get some chances on the second power play.

Jonathan Quick matched the Devils, shot-for-shot and save-for-save.  His best save of the period came as Petr Sykora, back in the lineup for Game 4, cut into the slot and fired one glove side, but Quick snatched it.  Quick then stopped Ilya Kovalchuk’s wrist shot and Zach Parise’s rebound at the side of the net.  He later made another glove save on a shot by Alexei Ponikarovsky.  Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Justin Williams nearly gave the Kings a 1-0 lead late in the period, but his shot rang off the goal post behind Brodeur.  It was a rare display of luck going in the Devils’ favor in the series so far, and it kept the game scoreless after one period.

The Devils had to kill off a carry-over penalty on Bryce Salvador to start the second period, but they did it with ease.  Immediately after the successful penalty kill, Ilya Kovalchuk almost scored at the other end.  He saw a puck bounce away from him, and he fanned on the shot right in front of the net.  The Devils put some pressure on Quick in the opening minutes of the second period, but still couldn’t get anything past him.  The Kings started to warm up offensively, and it looked as if the Devils might be in trouble.  Luckily, Brodeur was up to the task and had another strong period.  Unfortunately, it was still tied after two periods.

In the third period, the Devils controlled most of the play offensively and finally started to forecheck in the Kings’ end consistently.  A strong shot from the left circle by Zach Parise nearly beat Quick, as he looked behind him, but he trapped it.  Parise appeared to be shaken up later, as he leg got caught in a pile-up, but he shook if off and remained in the game.  Eventually, they finally managed to beat Quick.  The play started with the forecheck, and eventually Bryce Salvador got his point shot on Quick, and the puck rebounded to Patrik Elias, who backhanded it home for the Devils’ first goal since Steve Bernier’s deflection early in the third period of Game 2.  The puck got through the attempted shot-blocking of the Kings, and because they tried to block the shot, they left Elias wide open near the net.  It was Elias’ fifth goal of the playoffs.

The lead, the Devils’ first of the series, lasted all of one minute.  David Clarkson was whistled for a very questionable boarding call on Dustin Brown, and the Kings went back on their power play.  Four seconds and a face-off win later, Drew Doughty’s one-timer found a way through traffic and into the back of the net.  The Devils’ lead was gone, and it meant that they would need at least one more goal to force a Game 5.  They got that goal with under five minutes remaining in the third period.  Mark Fayne pinched along the neutral zone to prevent the Kings from an offensive shift.  Ponikarovsky backhanded the puck up the ice and David Clarkson threw it across to Adam Henrique high in the offensive zone.  The pass went off Henrique’s skate right to his stick, and he beat Quick stick-side under the crossbar.  The pass from Clarkson would have been intercepted had it been aimed for Henrique’s stick.  It was either fortunate or a very skilled and intelligent play by Clarkson to aim for Henrique’s skate and just as much on Henrique’s part to shoot the puck.  Let’s go with skill over luck.

With under three minutes remaining, Willie Mitchell, the former 8th round draft pick of the Devils in 1996, high-sticked Kovalchuk to put the Devils on a late power play.  They didn’t score on it, although they did come very close, including a chance for Travis Zajac on a rebound, but they took two huge minutes off the clock.  Following the power play, the Kings pulled Quick, and Ilya Kovalchuk iced the game with an empty net goal, his first career goal in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Kovalchuk battled through the apparent injury that’s been bothering him, and had a pretty decent game, in terms of creating offense overall.  The Devils won, 3-1.

Henrique is clutch.  He scored his third game-winning goal in the playoffs.  This one goes along with Game 7 in double-overtime against the Panthers and the overtime series-winning goal in Game 6 against the Rangers.  Alexei Ponikarovsky has also been clutch in these playoffs.  Four of his seven points have come on game-winning goals.  Bryce Salvador, the offensive wizard that he’s become, added a pair of assists of his own in the game.  This game, though, as so many other big games before, was made possible by the efforts of Martin Brodeur.  The Devils outshot and out-hit the Kings, but the Kings got some quality scoring chances.  Brodeur’s finest work in Game 4 came on breakaways by Simon Gagne and Dustin Penner, as well as seven saves overall in the third period to preserve the victory.

The Devils survive another day (three days, actually), as Game 5 will be at the Prudential Center on Saturday night.  They’ll look to hand the Kings their first loss on the road in the 2012 playoffs, and force the series back to L.A. again for Game 6.  There is genuine belief amongst the Devils that they can keep this going and get back in the series, as there should be.  The Devils have come within one bounce and a few inches from winning any or all of the first three games of the series, and outplayed the Kings for much of Games 2 and 3.  They held off the Kings in perhaps L.A.’s best effort of the series and won Game 4.  Although Vancouver and Phoenix also won their respective Game 4’s to force a Game 5 against the Kings previously, the Devils are confident that this wasn’t just one win to delay the Kings’ party.  They’re confident that they have started a comeback.

And after all, wouldn’t that be the perfect Hollywood ending to a fantastic NHL season?

SCF Game 3 Recap: Devils blanked 4-0, down 3-0 in series

2012 Stanley Cup Finals, New Jersey Devils vs LA KingsThere really isn’t a whole lot to say after last night’s game for Devils fans.  They continued to struggle offensively for many reasons, including the brilliant goaltending on Jonathan Quick for the Kings.  Martin Brodeur wasn’t able to keep the game scoreless long enough to keep his team in it, and judging by Quick’s performance, Brodeur might have had to keep the game scoreless into an overtime or two if the Devils were going to have a shot at getting back in the series.  Instead, Quick shut the Devils out, and the Kings doubled their goal total from the first two games in Game 3, cruising to a 4-0 victory. Read the rest of this entry

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