With more NHL games canceled it was time to make my way to another AHL game. Last month I went to the Times Union Center in Albany to watch the Devils at home, so this time I decided to head into enemy territory – Hartford, Connecticut. Here are a few things I learned from the XL Center and the Connecticut Whale.
1. Corner seats are pretty amazing.
Since AHL tickets are more affordable then tickets to any NHL game, I’ve been taking advantage and sitting right on the glass. I know, I know, you can’t see a thing that close but I rarely have a chance to sit in these seats at the Prudential Center so I’m going for it while I can. For this game I tried corner seats and they were awesome! You get to be right up there for all the corner battles and big hits. You can hear the puck sliding along the boards at your feet and come face to face with pucks that are shot wide. I may or may not have jumped up a couple times thanks to high flying pucks.
As some of you who follow us on Twitter know, I had the privilege of attending the Albany Devils home game on Friday, October 19th. We watched as our AHL Devils took on the Syracuse Crunch (the Tampa Bay Lightning farm team). It was an exciting road trip for me, having never been to the Times Union Center in Albany AND having never attended an AHL game before.
What was interesting about being in Albany is that it is very much like being at an NHL Devils game. Much of the arena culture is just like being home, but on a smaller scale. For instance, the team used many of the same warm up songs that we do at home and when a goal is scored by the A-Devils, the song is also Rock and Roll Part II (or the “Hey Song” as some would call it). For those curious, yes, some of the home fans use the same chant following the song that the crowd does in Newark.
I’ve learned over the last couple of years that when you come to love hockey and follow a team closely, sometimes it’s hard to occupy yourself in the off season. After coming down off the roller coaster ride of excitement, I start to get slightly depressed thinking about how much I miss the atmosphere of game day and being with all the great people I’ve become friends with throughout the season (and now, years!).
After experiencing my first playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals as a fan, it was especially awesome knowing there were people around me who understood the various emotions bursting out. I never imagined I could get so overly emotional over a GAME. Having experienced it first hand NOW, I think I’ll handle myself better in the future, but at the time it was all raw, new and exciting. The upside of all of it is that the bonds I formed with my friends are stronger than ever before, and THIS summer we all made it our mission to see each other more often to ease the boredom and depressing aspect of waiting.
A few Devils Army Generals took a trip up to Albany on Saturday, March 3rd to watch the Albany Devils take on the Adirondack Phantoms. We got a chance to meet with the PR and Marketing department of the Albany Devils at the Times Union Center to get a glance at life as an Albany Devils employee and how they use social media. At five o’clock it was game time! We made sure to pick up the giveaway that night, a Devil Dawg piggy bank (Seth already has coins in it), and bought a couple mystery pucks that were signed by current Albany and New Jersey Devils players. Seth got lucky with a Zach Parise autographed puck and Kevin got a Travis Zajac autograph. Albany unfortunately lost to the Phantoms but Kevin won a pretty nice prize pack from playing Devils Trivia – and that’s all that matters, right?
New York Rangers (39-15-6, 84 points) vs. New Jersey Devils (35-22-4, 74 points)
7:30 PM E.T.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Tonight will renew one of the best rivalries in the NHL. The Devils and Rangers always produce exciting games. The Devils own the all-time series lead, and lead this season’s series, 2-1 so far. A Devils win tonight would mark the first time any NHL team defeated the Rangers three times this season. The Rangers won the first game of the season between the two teams at Prudential Center, 4-1 on December 20th. The Devils tried to cling to a 1-0 lead for most of the game after Travis Zajac scored his first of the season, but the Rangers scored three straight goals, plus an empty netter, all of which came in the late second period and third period. The Devils won the second meeting against the Rangers in a shootout on January 31st. Zach Parise scored in that game, and while trailing 2-1 and 3-2, Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson both scored game-tying goals against Martin Biron in the final 5 minutes before winning in a shootout. The Devils also won the most recent meeting, 1-0 at Madison Square Garden. David Clarkson’s first period power play goal was the difference, and Martin Brodeur recorded his first shutout of the season.
So, what will tonight’s chapter of the Hudson River Rivalry give us?
Bump in the road:
After a 9-1-1 run out of the All-Star break, the Devils suffered their first back-to-back losses in regulation this past weekend, after falling 2-1 to Vancouver and 4-3 to Tampa Bay. The Devils didn’t play poorly on Friday against the Canucks, but they couldn’t produce enough offense at the right time. Cory Schneider also robbed the Devils of a second goal in that game. Yesterday was a more frustrating day for the Devils. Adam Larsson struggled in his first game back from injury, and Marek Zidlicky made his Devils debut, but they fell to the Lightning. Martin St. Louis was too much for the Devils to contain. He factored in the scoring of all four Tampa Bay goals, including his sixth career hat trick. The Devils have now surrendered hat tricks to Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and St. Louis this season. Ilya Kovalchuk has the Devils’ lone hat trick this season.
Still, the Devils jumped out to a 5-0 record post-All-Star break before dropping games to St. Louis in a shootout and Florida. They followed that up by winning four straight games before their most recent hiccup. They’ve also gone 12-2-1 over their past 15 road games, despite struggling at home recently. The Devils are 9-3-1 since the All-Star break overall. Due to the Flyers and Penguins both winning their games over the weekend, the Devils fell to 6th in the Eastern Conference, but remain three points back of 4th place.
Carrying the weight:
Martin Brodeur saw his work load reduced at the beginning of the season, which was also partially due to minor injuries, but he’s carried most of the load recently. Brodeur started Friday, as well as yesterday, and he starts again tonight at MSG. This will be the first time Brodeur has started back-to-back games all season. He’s three wins shy of 650 for his career, which would obviously be a new record, as he’s already the all-time wins leader.
The Devils have limited the opposition’s chances in recent games. Brodeur only made 14 saves on Friday and 16 on Sunday. Brodeur allowed 4 goals on Sunday, which was the first time he had given up more than 3 in a game since January 4th against the Boston Bruins, when he gave up 6 goals. It was only the second time Brodeur gave up more than 3 goals in a game since November 30th, 2011.
The Devils are proving to be a very deep team this season. They have three solid lines that can match up against most opposing lines and three lines that can produce offense at any given time. Consider their third line right now (nicknamed “The Momentum Line” by Pete DeBoer and the “600-pound line” by Alexei Ponikarovsky): Ponikarovsky-Dainius Zubrus-Steve Bernier. Although Bernier only has 4 points with the Devils, including the primary assist on Petr Sykora’s goal on Sunday, he’s helped the third line become a dominating puck possession line. Zubrus has also recorded 12 points in the 13 games since the break. Ponikarovsky has put up 5 goals and 6 assists in 15 games as a Devil. That depth scoring has carried the Devils, as their top line has cooled off recently.
Although he continues to log assists, Ilya Kovalchuk has gone five straight games without a goal, following his first hat trick as a Devil. He hasn’t scored a goal on his last 23 shots. Zach Parise, who had plenty of scoring chances against Tampa Bay on Sunday, did connect with the final shot he took. He hadn’t scored on his past 20 shots. Parise and Kovalchuk’s center, Adam Henrique, has hit a bit of a wall over his last couple games, going pointless and taking a minus-2 rating over the last two games. Meanwhile, Patrik Elias has also cooled off. He hasn’t scored a goal in seven games. His 58 points are second on the team to Kovalchuk’s 60. Petr Sykora has gotten back on track, recording seven points in his last eight games.
The Rangers continue to lead the Eastern Conference, yet much of the past few weeks have featured some significant trade rumors surrounding the Rangers. The most prominent name linked to New York has been Columbus captain Rick Nash. Ranger fans infamously mocked Nash after he scored a goal to tie the Blue Jackets-Rangers game in the dying seconds, chanting “We don’t want you.” Well, by the time this preview is up, the trade deadline will have passed, and barring something very dramatic, Nash won’t be traded to the Rangers.
Marian Gaborik leads the Rangers in goals (29) and points (53) this season. His goal production has cooled off over the past few weeks. At one point in December, he was tied with Steven Stamkos for the league lead in goals, but Stamkos now has 43, which is 14 more than Gaborik’s 29. The Rangers have also gotten plenty of offensive support from their defensemen, as Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi all have 20 points or more this season (in comparison, the Devils’ highest scoring defenseman, Adam Larsson, has 16 points this season).
The Devils rank 12th in goals for, while the Rangers are right behind in 14th. The difference is, while the Devils rank 12th in goals against, the Rangers are the best defensive team in hockey, thanks to the previously mentioned defensemen plus Marc Staal, and perhaps the best goaltender on the planet right now: Henrik Lundqvist. It seems almost factual that Lundqvist will be this year’s Vezina winner. The Devils will have their hands full, as always, trying to beat him.
New Jersey Devils’ projected lineup (barring a last minute trade):
Parise – Henrique – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Clarkson
Ponikarovsky – Zubrus – Bernier
Carter – Josefson – Boulton
Salvador – Larsson
Greene – Fayne
Volchenkov – Zidlicky
New York Rangers’ projected lineup:
Anisimov – Stepan – Gaborik
Hagelin – Richards – Callahan
Dubinsky – Boyle – Prust
Fedotenko – Mitchell – Rupp
McDonagh – Girardi
Del Zotto – Stralman
Staal – Bickell
The Devils Generals are traveling all over New Jersey to watch some Devils hockey and you all should come with us! We’ve hosted a few viewing parties in our day and they’re always a good time. We’ve got trivia, giveaways, Devils alumni appearances, photo-ops, drink specials and a Devils hockey game – how could you go wrong? If you’ve hung out with us before, you know how awesome it is. If you haven’t, get to one! We’re making sure to hit bars and restaurants from Paramus to Brielle and everything in between. Find one closest to you and join us.