With the 2013 season starting in just a few hours, there are still many surprising questions remaining for a team that was 2 wins away from a Stanley Championship. The loss of THE PLAYER WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED hurts for sure but that’s not the only question.
The Albany Devils hosted the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins down in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on Sunday the 25th. It was a great night for hockey in AC. Sunday’s game was the first of four Albany Devils games at Boardwalk Hall this season. I was very excited to see our favorite players on the ice and playing hockey again.
New Jersey Devils (46-28-6, 98 points) vs. Detroit Red Wings (48-27-5, 101 points)
7:30 PM E.T.
TV: MSG Plus
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Thursday night will be the first and only meeting of the 2011-12 season between the Devils and Red Wings. Of course, Devils fans remember this matchup from the spring of 1995, when the Devils swept Detroit en route to the first Stanley Cup Championship in Devils’ history. Last season, Detroit won both meetings between the two teams: a 4-1 decision in New Jersey and a 3-1 final in Detroit. The Devils last beat the Red Wings on December 5th, 2009, a 4-3 shootout victory for New Jersey.
All of the sudden, the New Jersey Devils are heating up at the end of the regular season. This is probably the best hockey a playoff-bound Devils team is playing since the infamous 11-game winning streak at the end of the 2005-06 regular season. They haven’t won 11 straight (yet), but they’ve won a slightly-more-modest four in a row, although the schedule did ease up a bit. Playing the Red Wings in Detroit will be a big test for the Devils. Although the Devils only scored two goals on Tuesday against the Islanders (plus an empty netter), the team looks to be playing well right now, as they’ve netted 14 total goals in the last three games, and held the Islanders to just 20 shots on Tuesday, following a shutout of the Hurricanes over last weekend.
(headline by @tomheaney1)
Three stars of the game:
3rd star: Zach Parise (2 assists)
2nd star: Patrik Elias (1 goal, 1 assist)
1st star: Travis Zajac (Game winning goal)
Johan Hedberg entered Tuesday night’s game against the Islanders having allowed just one goal in two games against the Isles this season, so it seemed like a good decision by coach Pete DeBoer to start Hedberg on Tuesday. “Moose” responded by stopping 19 of 20 shots he faced, and picked up his 17th win of the season. The Devils didn’t play their best game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was enough to move up to 98 points, and actually close to within three points of fifth place Philadelphia with two games remaining. Here’s how it all unfolded.
(I had to use my own headline tonight. Sorry!)
Three stars of the game:
3rd star: Ilya Kovalchuk (Goal, assist)
2nd star: Ryan Malone (Lighting – 3 goals)
1st star: Patrik Elias (2 assists)
New Jersey Devils (25-17-2, 52 points) vs Winnipeg Jets (21-19-5, 47 points)
7:00 PM EST
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Tonight will be the final match-up between the Devils and the Winnipeg Jets this season, unless the miracle of miracles happens and they face each other in the playoffs. The Jets are coming off a 2-0 win against the Ottawa Senators last night, and as we saw this weekend, they are no pushover and the Devils need to keep up their strong play against them tonight.
The Devils have won 2 in a row, after a 2-1 come from behind win against Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon to keep them at 6th place in the Eastern Conference. A game like this proved that they have the determination to fight and battle after giving up an early lead. It would, however, be in their best interest to not continue to sit back and wait for mistakes, and just take it right to the Jets tonight.
The Devils will be honoring Patrik Elias for reaching the 1,000 NHL game mark with a ceremony before the start of the game tonight. His 1,000th game was played on January 6th at the Prudential Center against the Florida Panthers.
News & Notes:
Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson were selected to represent the Devils at this year’s All-Star Game. This is a huge stepping stone for the two rookies as they look to continue to secure a roster spot on this Devils team. Congratulations to both of them!
After having surgery over the summer to repair a tear in his Achilles tendon , Travis Zajac’s come back was cut short and he has been sidelined for the last 2 weeks with soreness in the tendon. His recovery is going to be a little longer than expected, but hopefully he will be ready to go later in the season when the Devils will need him most.
Andy Greene is still out with a fractured foot and broken toe, and was not cleared to start skating as of late last week. Currently in week 5 of his 4-6 week projected recovery, he’s right about where he’s supposed to be. His return is essential to improve the defense.
Nick Palmieri was recently sent back down to Albany, to make room for the return of Jacob Josefson, who recently completed a two game stint in Albany. Out since November with a broken right clavicle, it has been confirmed that Josefson will be making his return tonight!
Devils Stat Leaders:
Points – Patrik Elias, 41
Goals – Ilya Kovalchuk, 17
Assists – Patrik Elias, 25
Projected Devils Lineup:
Parise (C) – Zubrus – Kovalchuk (A)
Sykora – Elias (A) – Clarkson
Tedenby – Carter – Josefson
Boulton – Mills – Zalewski
Salvador – Larsson
Volchenkov – Foster
Tallinder – Fayne
*Scratches – Henrique, Taormina, Janssen
The Latest on the Winnipeg Jets:
The Jets are 0-14-2 when trailing after two periods, but scored 49 seconds in to the game last night. Obviously, getting the early lead is important to this club’s success.
Jets Stats Leaders:
Points – Blake Wheeler, 32
Goals – Evander Kane, 18
Assists – Blake Wheeler, 23
Projected Jets Lineup:
Kane – Little – Fehr
Ladd – Antropov – Wellwood
Stapleton – Cormier – Burmistrov
Glass – Slater – Miettinen
Hainsey – Enstrom
Oduya – Flood
Jones – Stuart
Every hockey season has its ups and downs and every team has to deal with injuries. Sometimes they really affect your team’s place in the standings. You can ask the Pittsburgh Penguins about that one. And sometimes they don’t affect a team so adversely because of organizational depth. Luckily that’s what the Devils have experienced this year. When news came out that Travis Zajac would be out for the first couple of months in the season a lot of Devils fans were upset because he was probably the one player that the Devils couldn’t afford to lose. There was a lack of proven depth at the center position and he was the #1 center. Then in the 3rd week of the season, Jacob Josefson (whom Devils fans were counting on to step up and carry the Zajac workload) breaks his clavicle and is out for 3 months. This left the Devils with Brad Mills as the top natural center on the team. Not necessarily someone with the scoring touch you’d hope.
The Devils decided to call up Adam Henrique from Albany to take the spot of Josefson. Henrique had been sent down as the team felt he wasn’t ready or producing as he should on the team. Out of necessity, they called him up and he’s done nothing except become the leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. Playing alongside two of the best scorers in the game with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, Henrique has established himself as the #1 center this year. An added bonus is that he’s very good defensively and on the penalty kill where he has 4 shorthanded goals (tied for the league lead).
It was announced that Travis Zajac had a set back with his recovery and will be shut down for 2 weeks. We won’t be seeing him until after the All-Star break. This opens the door for the now-healthy Jacob Josefson to step up and be the 3rd line center the Devils need right now. Steve Zalewski hasn’t cost the Devils any games but Josefson is just a better player than him.
When the Devils get 100% healthy they will be an very balanced and talented team up front. Especially up the middle which is so crucial. Zajac will probably be the 3rd line center with Clarkson and Tedenby, making that line a big scoring threat given Clarkson’s new-found ability to score goals at will. You can also have Jacob Josefson center a line with Ryan Carter (another injury signing that has been great) and whoever Pete DeBoer wants to put on the other wing to create a quick, talented 4th line. That is a very deep team that can have all 4 lines contribute at any given time. Very important for a long playoff run.
It’s very interesting to see how one man, in Zajac, can balance out an entire team to make it better. But the emergence of Adam Henrique has made that possible. So I offer just a little advice to Devils fans upset about Zajac’s set back today: Be patient. This team will get healthy and when it does, they’ll be much better.
The Devils played their 41st game of the season Saturday evening. If my math is correct (you can correct me if you want), that makes it the official halfway point of the season. So I thought I’d look back at the first half of the year and offer some opinions.
MVP of the Half-Year:
Zach Parise – You may think this is an easy pick but it really wasn’t. Patrik Elias has been steady and is having one of his better years and Ilya Kovalchuk has been, especially lately, provided the game-breaking scoring punch he needs to be. But MVP is who is most valuable to his team and that man is Mr. Parise. Zach has been the Devils heart and soul and hardest worker out there. He’s not a point machine like the Flyers’ Claude Giroux is, but watching him every night is an absolute treasure. power play, penalty killing, the man does it all. If you want a microcosm of how Parise has been playing this year, watch this goal from December 16th. Oh and by the way, THIS IS SHORT-HANDED! Parise doesn’t get the goal but the work he does before that tells you the kind of player he is and how is one of the top 3 best all-around players in the NHL this year. (Honorable Mention: Patrik Elias)
Rookie of the Half-Year:
Adam Henrique – Going into this season all Devils could talk about was 4th overall pick Adam Larsson and the impact he would make to a relatively weak blue line for the Devils. And he has played well and has showed moments where he’s going to be crazy good in a few years. But what the fans didn’t expect was the impact of another rookie, Adam Henrique. The former 3rd round pick made the team out of camp and then got sent down for lack of production. Then a broken clavicle by Jacob Josefson gave Henrique his 2nd chance and he has taken the ball and ran with it (or puck… whatever). With the injuries of both Josefson and Travis Zajac, the center position at the top was looking very thin. Henrique saw the opportunity to make an impact and is now cemented (so far) as the Devils’ 1st line center. He has 32 points in 36 games. That’s an outstanding points-per-game ratio for a first line rookie center. And now with Oilers centerman Ryan Nugent-Hopkins our for the next 4 weeks with an injury, Henrique could take a stranglehold on the race for the Calder Trophy as top rookie. (Honorable Mention: Adam Larsson)
Pleasant Surprise of the Half-Year:
David Clarkson – The man has 15 goals so far. FIFTEEN! He leads the team! If you thought that was going to happen in the beginning of the year, and that his goals were going to be very important ones (first goals, game tying goals, game winning goals), you’d be lying. And I don’t like liars. They’re mean. (Honorable Mention: The second coming of Petr Sykora)
Disappointment of the Half-Year:
Steady 4th Line production – Now I’m not saying that production = points. There’s a lot of times that the 4th line could give a team energy and also play well enough defensively and offensively that it gives the top 3 lines needed rest during a game. That hasn’t been the case with the 4th line this year so far. While the Cam Janssen fights have been there (and LONG), there really hasn’t been that balance where they can go out there 5-7 minutes a game and give top guys like Ilya Kovalchuk some rest. Because of their liabilities, they’ve even double-shifted Kovy some times. (Honorable Mention: Mattias Tedenby)
Low Point of the Half-Year:
6-1 loss to Colorado – This was a game after which the Devils lost a heartbreaker to the Islanders. You would think the team would be able to build on that loss knowing they got hosed (in my humble opinion), and take out their frustrations on a very mediocre Colorado Avalanche team. Well the Devils got trounced 6-1 and never even looked like they wanted to be there. Thankfully there haven’t been any games like this one since. And no, that 6-1 Boston loss was just a good ol’ fashioned butt-whoopin’ by the best team in the league. It’s much easier to come back from a loss like that than the one suffered in Colorado. (Honorable Mention: Zajac tears achilles)
High Point of the Half-Year:
Not Being Dead Last in the NHL – At the halfway point of last season, the Devils were 10-29-2 and losers of 15 of their last 17. We also didn’t win at home until mid-November. This year? 23-16-2 and sitting in the 6th spot in the conference, 4 points from the #4 slot. I wouldn’t care if Kovy got an Ovechtrick for 3 straight games. This is the high point of the season. HANDS. DOWN. (Honorable Mention: December 8th win over Ottawa after being down 3-0)
Biggest Key to the 2nd Half:
Stay Healthy – The Devils have been fortunate enough that they have played well despite injuries from key players such as Travis Zajac, Jacob Josefson, and Andy Greene. They’re also fortunate that it was in the first half of the season. The later the season goes on, the more damaging these injuries can be. The point differential between the Devils and 10th place is only 4 points. They’re going to need all their guns to keep the fight going. Travis Zajac has returned despite missing the past couple of games with soreness, which was expected. Josefson and Greene will be back in the next couple of weeks as well, although Josefson may play in Albany for a while with the emergence of Adam Henrique (my feeling is make him the 4th line center and make that line an actual scoring threat, but I don’t have time to write why). The biggest key is get healthy, stay healthy, and get into the playoffs. The way the NHL Playoffs have been you never know what can happen. Unless we have to play Boston. I don’t want to have to play Boston. Not in the first round at least.