Roughly 30 hours after the Devils beat the Penguins 3-1 in Newark, history repeated itself. Sure, the arena was different…and the goal-scorers were different…heck, even the goalies were different. But the New Jersey Devils (8-1-3) pulled off another 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins (8-5-0) to win their fifth straight and increase their lead on the Atlantic Division, and the Eastern Conference.
Start Time: 1:00 PM
TV: NHLN-US, MSG+
Radio: WFAN 600 AM, 101.9 FM
As the state of New Jersey braces for what will probably be the worst snow storm of the year, the New Jersey Devils (6-1-3) are preparing for what could be one of their most important weekends of the shortened season. Saturday afternoon, the Devils will play the first game of a home-and-home series against their Division Rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (8-3-0). The Devils enter the game winning their last three, most recently a convincing 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Penguins have won their past five games, consisting of wins against the Rangers, Devils, Islanders, and the Capitals twice.
New Jersey Devils:
One of the key factors to the Devils three-game winning streak is obviously the team’s strong penalty kill. The Devils have killed off all 16 penalties called against them in those three games, with Kovalchuk even scoring a short-handed goal against the Lightning. While averaging over 5 penalties a game is not where the Devils want to be, being able to kill those penalties is a huge boost of confidence for the team. After giving up 3 power-play goals against the Islanders last week, the Devils really started being more aggressive on their penalty kills, pressuring the offense to make mistakes. On top of that, the Devils goaltending has been superb as of late. Hedberg posted a shutout against the Islanders, and Marty let in three goals in his previous two outings, making some truly stellar stops in both games. After 10 games, the Devils are only averaging 2.1 goals against, tied for 5th in the NHL.
What is there to say about the Penguins that hasn’t already been said? Their offense has been as lethal as ever this season, and the Penguins have one of the best goalie pairs in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury (5-2-0, 2.38 GAA, 0.909 Sv%) is looking to erase all memories of his terrible performance during last season’s playoffs, and Tomas Vokoun (3-1-0, 2.08 GAA, 0.927 Sv%) has played spectacularly when filling in for Fleury. The Penguins are currently averaging 3.46 goals per game, tied for second with the Chicago Blackhawks, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning (4.20).
What to Watch For
Martin Brodeur will start career game number 1,200 Saturday afternoon, yet another milestone in the massive book Marty has written through his career. With the way Marty has been playing lately, I wouldn’t worry about last week’s performance getting to him. Marty’s made a career out of bouncing back from tough losses, and he’s put on a clinic in his past 2 starts. Look for Marty to continue his strong play and for the defense to continue supporting him. While the Devils penalty-kill has been strong, the Devils will want to stay out of the box more, but don’t expect them to play more conservative because of this. The offense has been clicking as of late, with Clarkson (7) leading the team in goals, and tied with Elias for the team lead in points with 13.
The Penguins offense will be fueled by the usual suspects: Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, and Neal. Look for them to test Marty early and often, trying to break through and have another high-scoring game against the future Hall-of-Famer. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to get the start against Marty on Saturday afternoon. While the Penguins are sporting one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, don’t expect that to intimidate the Devils. After all, they held the #1 team in the league (Tampa Bay) to just two goals on Thursday.
With the Central/North New Jersey area currently being pounded by winter storm Nemo, don’t expect a sell-out crowd at the Prudential Center tomorrow. Who knows, maybe this generation will get a chance to have their own 334 Club. Regardless, expect Devils fans to show up ready for a good game.
Game Time: 1:00 PM
TV: NHLN-US, MSG+
Radio: WFAN 660 AM, 101.9 FM
The New Jersey Devils (3-0-3) will face-off for the first time this season against the Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3-0) Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh. Both teams played their most recent games Thursday evening, with the Devils falling in overtime to the Islanders, and the Penguins shutting out the New York Rangers 3-0. Last season, the Devils split the series with the Penguins, finishing 3-3-0, finishing 1-2-0 in Pittsburgh. Ilya Kovalchuk led the Devils in goals (4) and points (11) against the Penguins last season.
New Jersey Devils
While getting at least a point in every game this season, the Devils realize that some changes have to be made to get back to their winning ways. Coach Peter DeBoer said after Thursday’s OT loss, “We didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play well enough to win. We lost the special teams battles. We lost the faceoff battle. I said this before: You get what you deserve in this game. We had some opportunities to win, but we didn’t play well enough to earn two points.” The Devils only managed to kill 1 penalty out of 4 against the Islanders, by far their worst performance of the year while short-handed after only giving up 3 goals on their previous 36 times short-handed. If there’s any silver-lining to be taken from Thursday’s game, it’s the way the Devils played while they were down during the game. The Devils were down 2-0, 3-2, and 4-3 and managed to tie the game each time. While the Devils struggled in a lot of areas, they did a good job of making up for it offensively. They’ll be looking to their defense and their special teams to help right the ship this weekend.
The Penguins, always a strong contender in the Atlantic Division, are off to a less-than-favorable start to the shortened season. Despite the shutout win over the Rangers on Thursday night, they were almost shutout by the Islanders on Tuesday, finally breaking through Nabokov with 69 seconds left in the game. The Penguins are also winless at home (0-2-0) falling to the Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2. Marc-Andre Fleury (2-2-0, 2.95 GAA, 0.890 Sv%) is usually Pittsburgh’s go-to-goalie, but Tomas Vokoun (2-1-0, 1.81 GAA, 0.940 Sv%) has made a strong case for himself this season. As always, Evgeni Malkin (2G, 6A) and Sidney Crosby (3G, 4A) lead the team in points.
What to Watch For
If you weren’t a fan of David Clarkson before this season started, chances are you are now. Clarkson (4G, 4A) has registered a point in all six of the Devils games so far this season and currently holds the scoring lead for the team. Patrik Elias (2G, 5A) has also been hot for the Devils, as he looks to improve on his franchise records. Ilya Kovalchuk has always been lethal against the Penguins, registering 24 goals and 24 assists in 42 games against Pittsburgh. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (3-0-2, 2.32 GAA, 0.913 Sv5) had a bit of an off night against the Islanders, but is still very solid on the season. Look for a bounce-back game from Marty to make up for his performance on Thursday. With Crosby, Malkin, and Neal combining for 10 of the Penguins’ 18 goals, they’ll be the three players the Devils defense will look to shutdown Saturday afternoon. Expect the Devils defense to play a much more conservative, controlled game than we saw on Thursday evening, but also expect the offense to keep up the pressure and continue scoring.
Three stars of the game:
3rd star: Evgeni Malkin (Penguins – Goal, assist)
2nd star: Pascal Dupuis (Penguins – Goal, assist)
1st star: Sidney Crosby (Penguins – Goal, assist)
Not even a good effort was enough to prevent another 5-2 score in a Devils-Penguins game. The Devils did a lot of good things offensively on Sunday night against the Pens, but they couldn’t finish their chances, and defensive breakdowns haunted them in the end. To summarize: the Devils are in a pretty significant slump right now all-around. The good news: Travis Zajac is back, and he looked really good. Here’s what happened.
Pittsburgh Penguins (46-22-6, 98 points) vs. New Jersey Devils (42-27-6, 90 points)
7:00 PM E.T.
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
This is the sixth and final matchup between two Atlantic Division teams that are both likely headed for the playoffs. The Penguins won the first meeting in Pittsburgh, 4-1 on October 22nd, but the Devils won the next three matchups, 3-1, 3-1 and 5-2. Their last meeting was eight days ago at Prudential Center on Devils’ retro day. It didn’t go very well for the Devils, as the red hot Penguins dominated the home team, 5-2 and outshot New Jersey, 44-14. With a win, the Devils would clinch the season series, but even if they lose, they’d be settling for a 3-3 split, which isn’t bad considering the dominant team the Penguins have become since they’ve gotten healthy.
(headline by @Bcallow_74)
3 stars of the game:
3rd star – Matt Cooke (Penguins: 2 goals)
2nd star – Evgeni Malkin (Penguins: 1 goal, 1 assist)
1st star – Sidney Crosby (Penguins: 3 assists)
First of all, before getting to anything related to the game itself, I wanted to take the opportunity to give a huge shoutout to the Devils organization for a phenomenal job with Retro Day 2012. It started with the retro cap giveaway entering the arena today, then we were treated to Bob Arsena’s voice (and the voice of the Devils during the Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena days) for the second straight year. The Devils also used their goal horn from the pre-lockout days as well (I’m not sure if they would have used it last year, as they were shut out last year), and even returned to their old introduction video and music on the Jumbotron. So, to the Devils, today was a job well done.
As we sat in a sold out Prudential Center today, we were optimistic that perhaps the Devils would be the team to snap the Pittsburgh Penguins’ seemingly never-ending winning streak. After all, the Devils had won the last three games against Pittsburgh, and the last time Sidney Crosby and the Penguins were healthy, in 2009-10, the Devils swept the season series, so there was reason for optimism. It didn’t take very long for the optimism to wear off, though. The Penguins did something that actual penguins can’t do: they were flying from the opening face-off to the final horn. They absolutely dominated the Devils on Saturday afternoon in a game where the Devils were never really in it at all.
Just 1:55 into the game, Marek Zidlicky got beat by Chris Kunitz, and Zidlicky resorted to taking him down on a partial breakaway. Some would argue that Zidlicky knocked the puck off Kunitz’s stick before he took Kunitz down, but regardless, the officials awarded Kunitz a penalty shot. Martin Brodeur stopped him, and kept the Devils in it for most of the afternoon, because if Brodeur hadn’t been as strong as he was, the game would have been much more lopsided. Despite Brodeur’s strong play, the Penguins scored two face-offs and four seconds after the penalty shot. Evgeni Malkin won the face-off cleanly, and James Neal fired his 32nd of the season past Brodeur.
The Penguins absolutely dominated play for most of the first period. They controlled the puck and forced the Devils’ defensemen into mistakes, yet still allowed no room for the Devils to set up offensively. At one point, the Penguins had 11 of 12 shots on goal overall. Pittsburgh finished the period up 14-6 in the shots department. Six shots would be the most they allowed in any period in this game. However, with 3:03 to go in the first period, Ilya Kovalchuk led a 3-on-2 rush, dropped the puck to the trailer, Andy Greene, and Greene wristed the puck just under the crossbar to tie the game, 1-1, which held through the first intermission. It was Greene’s first goal of the season.
The Devils had no answer to the Pens’ first period dominance in the second period. For the first ten minutes of the period, Brodeur’s at-times brilliant play kept the Devils and Penguins tied, but ten seconds past the halfway point of regulation and the second period, Pittsburgh struck again. Jordan Staal dropped the puck to Pascal Dupuis down the left side, and Dupuis slapped the puck into the net to make it 2-1 Penguins. 1:34 after Dupuis’ goal, Sidney Crosby threw the puck across the crease and Matt Cooke knocked it in off his skate. Like Greene’s goal, the play was reviewed, but the goal counted, and the Penguins led 3-1. 58 seconds after Cooke’s goal, the Penguins, now on a power play after a questionable penalty call on David Clarkson for roughing, struck yet again. Crosby threw another puck across down low and Evgeni Malkin slapped it home. That was how the second period went, and 4-1 was the score after two periods.
In the third period, the Devils got off to a decent start. They had three of the first four shots in the period, but they only had one shot after that point. At 2:26, Petr Sykora scored on a rebound to cut the Devils’ deficit to 4-2, and they could have made a comeback attempt at that point, but they didn’t. Pittsburgh ended up dominating the third period, outshooting the Devils, 18-4 in the final period. Matt Cooke added another goal (which gave Crosby his third assist of the game) 3:30 after Sykora’s goal to make it 5-2 Pittsburgh, which held up as the final score.
Game notes: The Devils, who struggled early in the season at home, hadn’t lost at Prudential Center since February 26th before Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins. It was also the first time Pittsburgh won in New Jersey since October 11th, 2010, when the Penguins won, 3-1. Ilya Kovalchuk and Petr Sykora didn’t necessarily play particularly well on Saturday, but both found the score sheet. Kovalchuk now has 10 points in 5 games against the Penguins this season. Andy Greene’s goal was his first goal since March 30th, 2011, when the Devils beat the Islanders, 3-2 on Greene’s game-winner late in the third period. David Clarkson added 16 penalty minutes, to bring his team-leading total to 134 in Saturday’s game. Despite allowing five goals, Martin Brodeur made 39 saves in the game.
New Jersey Devils (41-25-5, 87 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (43-21-5, 91 points)
1:00 PM E.T.
TV: MSG Plus, Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Tale of the tape:
This is the fifth of six meetings between two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Devils dropped the first meeting of the season in Pittsburgh on October 22nd, but since then, it’s been all Devils. The Devils beat the Penguins 3-1 on New Year’s Eve, 3-1 in Pittsburgh on January 7th and 5-2 on February 5th. This St. Patrick’s Day special will mark the second time in three years that the Penguins will be in New Jersey as the Devils celebrate retro day. The Devils are just four points behind Pittsburgh in the standings.
This matchup also features a pair of players who might be in the running for the Hart Trophy this season (league MVP). Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (85 points) and the Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk (71 points) have both been tremendous for their respective teams this season. Who knows where either team would be without the offensive production of the two Russian superstar forwards.
From 1982 to 1992, the Devils’ colors were red, white and green. From 1992 to present, the Devils did away with the green and changed to black. While they’ve never worn an alternate, third or black jersey regularly, this will be the third straight season that the Devils will bring the old red, white and green back for one day only. Also on this date in 2009, Martin Brodeur set the all-time NHL record for regular season wins by a goaltender, with his 552nd career win, passing Patrick Roy for the honor. Three years later, Brodeur has picked up 99 more wins. Also on March 17th, 2009, Patrik Elias recorded his 702nd career regular season point, which eclipsed John MacLean for most points in Devils’ history. March 17th is a festive day for more reasons than just the official holiday in New Jersey.
The Devils beat the Penguins on the very first Retro Night in 2010, 5-2, to cap off a season sweep of Pittsburgh in 2009-10 (6-0-0).
Where’s the offense?
The Devils have been in the top half of the league in goals per game. In fact, they’ve been in the top ten offensively for much of the season, but their ability to score goals has evaporated of late. After a three-goal third period on Sunday night against Philadelphia, they were shut out in Philly by the Flyers on Tuesday and failed to score a goal in 65 minutes of play against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, despite winning 1-0 in the shootout. They played much better offensively on Thursday than they did Tuesday, but scoring droughts this time of year can be worrisome, and the Devils must score goals against Pittsburgh, because with the firepower the Penguins do have, no goals probably won’t be good enough to compete with them.
Despite the recent offensive slump, the Devils do have the lineup and talent to score goals. They have four players who have eclipsed 20 goals this season and seven players with at least 15 goals. It is that balance of scoring that has helped the Devils become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season. They’ve also played strong defensively since the All-Star Break, and Martin Brodeur is 12-6-1 with a .930 save percentage since the break. That is, without a doubt, vintage Brodeur, as he approaches his 40th birthday.
Who to watch for:
The Devil who you’ll want to keep an extra-close eye on in this game is Ilya Kovalchuk. He’s been absolutely phenomenal against the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, as he has been against the Atlantic Division. Kovy has three goals and six assists in four games against Pittsburgh this season. In his career, Kovy has posted 46 points in 40 games against the Penguins. Patrik Elias has also had success against Pittsburgh this season, with a goal and four assists in the four games so far. Zach Parise has two goals and three assists in the season series with Pittsburgh so far.
What’s new with the Pens?
Things have been quiet from Pittsburgh’s camp of late.
Okay, not exactly. They had won nine straight games before their Thursday matchup with the New York Rangers at MSG, and they got two huge additions to their lineup: defenseman Kris Letang, who is generally considered to be one of the best puck-moving defenseman in the NHL as well as their “third line center,” who you may have heard of. His name is Sidney Crosby. He had only played eight games before Thursday due to concussion-like symptoms, but he’s back and at least for now, he’s healthy. He recorded an assist (it was later decided that he should get a second assist, so technically, he had two points at MSG) in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win over the Rangers. Oh yeah, and Letang? He was a plus-5 at MSG against the Rangers.
So the Penguins have won ten straight hockey games, and they’ve proven that they just might be the best team in the league right now. Winger James Neal is having a career year, with 31 goals and 67 points for the Penguins. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is one of hockey’s best in net, so at this point, are there any teams, at least in the East, that can play with the Penguins? The Devils will try to prove that they can in this game.
Penguins’ projected lineup:
Kunitz – Malkin – Neal
Sullivan – Staal – Dupuis
Cooke – Crosby – Kennedy
Tangradi – Vitale – Adams
Martin – Letang
Orpik – Michalek
Engelland – Niskanen
Devils’ projected lineup:
Parise – Henrique – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Zubrus
Ponikarovsky – Josefson – Clarkson
Boulton – Carter – Bernier
Greene – Fayne
Volchenkov – Zidlicky
Salvador – Larsson
It seems that the All-Star break provided the rest the Devils needed. Devils took the max points from the New York, Montreal, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Prior to the break the Devils had lost 3 straight. In those three games the Devils only scored 3 goals. Since then, the Devils have posted 19 goals in 4 games. The team is doing a lot of things right. Their special teams and defense are producing. The players that you expect to score are, as well as some you don’t expect.
One thing that is exciting to watch is the confidence that is building with this team. We saw a weak first period against the Rangers to start this past week. The Devils bounced backed in the 2nd and 3rd; coming from behind 3 times propelling them to win in the shootout. Each game New Jersey showed more confidence. Against Montreal the Devils had to come from behind but won in regulation. The weekend against Pennsylvania the Devils never trailed; scoring quickly against Philly and Pittsburgh.
The Devils D made their presence felt, scoring 3 goals and had 6 assists. Scoring came from Foster with 2 PPG against Philly and Volchenkov was able to get his first, as a Devil, against the Penguins.
Another factor, comes from Adam Oates’ special teams. They have produced 5PPGs and 2SHG, and remain in the top few on PKs in the entire NHL. On the power play the team have been able to move the puck setting up goals from the point for Foster and Kovalchuk.
The Devils’ top players have been leading the way but have received substantial support from the second and third line players. Parise has scored at least 1g in all 4 games and Kovalchuk has had 3 straight games with 3 points. Zubrus, Clarkson and Ponikorosvky have all added to the Devils scoring. Combined these three players have 20 pts in 4 games.
I am looking forward to this week’s games starting off Tuesday at MSG against the Rangers. Don’t forget we have a viewing party at Texas Arizona in Hoboken, NJ.
(headline submitted by @CincoCinco_)
The first four games out of the All-Star break have been eventful, entertaining and most importantly, all victories thus far for the New Jersey Devils. They’ve silenced critics who said that they couldn’t beat the elite teams of the Eastern Conference. Today was the latest in what is shaping out to be a second half surge for the Devils this season. After dropping the season’s first meeting with the Penguins, 4-1 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, the Devils earned their third consecutive win over their Atlantic Division rivals by getting off to a terrific start in the first period. In the end, they scored five goals for (ready for this?) the third straight game.
After a dramatic 6-4 win in Philadelphia yesterday on Saturday afternoon, the Devils were all-but sluggish to start this game. The Penguins, who also played yesterday afternoon, were simply outplayed for most of the opening period. Less than two and a half minutes in, the Devils’ forecheck opened the scoring. Zach Parise sent the puck behind the net, and Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, as he often does in New Jersey, had a hard time playing the puck. Patrik Elias picked it up and found Ilya Kovalchuk breaking to the net. Kovy slipped it 5-hole on Fleury and the Devils were off to a tremendous start once again.
The Penguins then generated a few scoring chances, but Martin Brodeur, who has played Pittsburgh tough all season, stopped Tyler Kennedy and the surging Evgeni Malkin to preserve the team’s lead. Still less than halfway through the period, Alexei Ponikarovsky stormed down the right wing and found Anton Volchenkov in the slot. Volchenkov tapped the puck to his left for Kovalchuk, who fed Volchenkov again and A-Train buried his first goal as a New Jersey Devil in 101 games. Six seconds later, the Devils went on their first power play and nearly scored a third goal. 2-0 would hold into the first intermission.
As they did in the first period, the Devils scored within the first two and a half minutes of the second period. As Kurtis Foster went off for hooking, Ilya Kovalchuk pestered his former teammate, Paul Martin and got the puck out of the zone. Kovy continued to harass Martin, and eventually took the puck away and powered his way to the net. Fleury left the puck in the crease and Dainius Zubrus finished it off to give the Devils their 13th shorthanded goal of the season. The goal gave the Devils the always-dangerous 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh yanked Fleury and backup Brent Johnson came into the game. Just over 30 seconds later and still on the power play, the Penguins got on the board. The newest Penguin, Cal O’Reilly fed Matt Niskanen, who slapped one by Brodeur. Brent Johnson then made a huge save on another great chance by Ponikarovsky. Later in the period, Andy Greene found Steve Bernier, and after a tremendous shift by Bernier, Parise stuffed a rebound home and restored the Devils’ three goal lead. That score, 4-1, held up through two periods. The other noteworthy event of the period was Kris Letang’s open-ice hit on Eric Boulton. It was a clean hit, and Boulton retaliated moments later. Chris Kunitz also took a run at Greene as Greene went to the bench late in the period.
Although the Penguins only outshot the Devils, 9-6 in the third period, Pittsburgh really got their chance to come back in the final period. They did score once, as Evgeni Malkin toe-dragged around Andy Greene and scored his four millionth goal of the season…okay, he’s actually at 29, but it feels like he’s got more than that. Aside from that Malkin goal, Brodeur owned the third period. He made several tremendous saves, including another save on Malkin’s turn-around shot from the left side. The save of the period was James Neal’s one-timer from the high slot. Brodeur sprawled out and made one of his patented two-pad stack saves to rob Neal. Finally, after the Penguins’ best push today and after they pulled Johnson, it was Martin Brodeur who picked up the puck and lifted it out to center. David Clarkson stormed down the right wing and scored the empty net goal, his 20th of the season. The Devils won, 5-2.
So, the Devils improve to 4-0-0 since the All-Star break, and they have all been physical, tough hockey games. They played a high-energy game against the Rangers and pulled off late heroics to win in a shootout, they overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to grind out a 5-3 win over Montreal, they dominated the Flyers early and held on to win 6-4 in Philadelphia and finished off the week by outplaying another division rival, and beat Pittsburgh, 5-2. They’ll make their first of three trips to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to face the New York Rangers again. Today was another strong effort, but they need to continue to work on putting together a 60-minute effort if they want to continue to have success against the league’s top teams.
Game notes: Alexei Ponikarovsky’s assist on Volchenkov’s goal gives him 7 points in 7 games as a Devil. Ilya Kovalchuk picked up his third straight three-point game. Kovy now has 10 points (and a fight) in four games since the break. The Devils are also 4-0-0 with Steve Bernier in the lineup this season. Bernier assisted on Parise’s goal. Speaking of Parise, his goal was his 20th of the season, as Clarkson’s goal was also his 20th. Along with Kovalchuk’s 22, the Devils now have three 20-goal scorers already this season. Parise also has five goals in his last four games. Patrik Elias has points in four straight games as well. Adam Henrique played his first game since the All-Star break after nursing a groin injury. The Devils have beaten Pittsburgh in three straight meetings now.
There is no way of knowing at this present time how the decisions made by all 30 teams in the NHL this off-season will affect the outcome of the 2011-2012 season. I personally believe the time we’ll be able to tell is the trading deadline when we see what teams are sellers and buyers.
We’ve hit a point in the off-season in which we all feel…what’s the word….blah. All the big free agents have been signed, the Jets have revealed their Royal Canadian Air Force logo, and now we sit and wait for Teemu Selanne to decide if he’s going to play hockey this season. Just sitting, twiddling our thumbs and waiting. With such a quiet mode, this is a great time to look at what has happened so far this off-season and look into the upcoming season.
First we will take a look at the most competitive division in hockey, in my opinion, the Atlantic Division.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Last season: 38-39-5, 81 points (fourth place Atlantic, 11th place Eastern)
Additions: Eric Boulton, LW; Cam Janssen, RW; Pete DeBoer, HC
Subtractions: Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond, LW; Anssi Salmela, D; Brian Rolston LW; Trent Hunter RW; Colin White D
Up-and-comers: Adam Larsson, D; Adam Henrique, C/W; Alexander Urbom, D; Jacob Josefson, C; Nick Palmieri, RW; Matthew Corrente, D; Mark Fayne, D
One of the many objectives this off-season for the Devils was to find a new head coach. The role has been filled. Stop sending in applications.
Pete DeBoer has been placed in charge of making sure a chunk of Devils prospects are ready to be full-time NHL’ers. DeBoer, coming off a stint as Panthers head coach for three seasons, has never made it into the postseason, but he kept a young Panthers team in contention.
Devils fans got their wish this off-season as the team was able to “steal” defenseman Adam Larsson at fourth overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Many thought, at the beginning of the season, Larsson was going to be going number one overall, but a late season surges by other players allowed Larsson to drop to the Devils. Many say Larsson is NHL ready, but with the way Lou Lamierllo operates the organization, he could see some time at Albany (AHL).
The one thing that many Devils fans hoped would be over quickly—and after the Kovalchuk saga last year who can blame them—is the re-signing of Zach Parise. Parise was re-signed to a one-year deal that will cost the Devils $6-million. Fans had hoped he would sign a long term deal; however, arbitration was quickly approaching and both sides agreed a one-year deal was the best way to go about this, for now. Parise and the Devils can continue to negotiate a new contract, but he cannot sign a new long-term deal until January 1, 2012.
Luckily, the Devils were able to shed some cap space and help the Islanders reach the cap floor as they sent Brian Rolston to the Island, shedding his $5-million cap hit.
Just days after the trade, the Devils waived Hunter, and defenseman Colin White. If the two clear waivers on Tuesday at Noon, Lamoriello said the two will be bought out. If bought out, the salary cup hit for White will be $1-million per year for the next two seasons, while Hunter’s will be $666,667 per season for the next four seasons. With White gone, there will only be two members on the team with Stanley Cup rings: Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias.
Last season: 47-23-12, 106 points (first place Atlantic, second place Eastern Conference)
Additions: Ilya Bryzgalov, G; Jaromir Jagr, RW; Jakub Voracek, RW; Wayne Simmonds, RW; Brayden Schenn, C; Maxime Talbot, C; Andreas Lilja, D
Subtractions: Mike Richards, C; Jeff Carter, C; Ville Leino, LW; Nikolay Zherdev, RW; Darroll Powe, C;Kris Versteeg, RW; Daniel Carcillo, LW; Sean O’Donnell, D; Brian Boucher, G
Up-and-comers: Sean Couturier, C; Ben Holmstrom, C; Eric Wellwood, LW; Mike Testwuide, RW; Erik Gustafsson, D
The team that questioned my sanity the most this offseason was the Philadelphia Flyers. Trading one of their top goal scorers in Jeff Carter and their captain in Mike Richards on the SAME day. No one knew what the Flyers had up their sleeves with those moves. I asked ESPN personality John Buccigross on Twitter what the Flyers had up their sleeves and he responded, “They dumped everything out of their sleeves.”
The trades allowed Paul Holmgren to acquire mediocre wingers, in Voracek and Simmonds, and two centers who have the ability to become franchise players. One is Brayden Schenn who was acquired in the Richards trade, the other was first-round draft pick, eighth overall, Sean Couturier. The draft pick was traded to the Flyers as part of the deal that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus.
The Flyers lost their captain and great defensive part of their game in Richards. As said, Schenn can eventually become the face of the franchise, but there is no way of knowing if he will become that type of player this coming season.
Flyers fan, James Iannizzotto isn’t worried about the team’s offense, “The explosive offense that Giroux and JVR showed towards the end of last year will make up for the absence of Richards and Carter. “
At least the Flyers got their goaltending situation under control. Trading for the rights of Ilya Bryzgalov and resigning him before July 1. The one thing I’m confused about is, the Flyers said Sergei Bobrovsky is their goalie of the future; however, the Flyers signed Bryzgalov to a nine year deal. What is going to become of Bobrovsky?
This off-season also saw the return of Jaromir Jagr. The Flyers signed the former all-star to a one-year deal worth over $3-million. While I think Jagr is still a decent player, he hasn’t played a full NHL season in over three years. Who knows what to expect of Jagr? I do know, however, Penguins/Flyers games will be fun to watch.
Last season: 49-25-8, 106 points (second place Atlantic, fourth place Eastern)
Additions: Steve Sullivan, LW; Steve MacIntyre, LW; Alexandre Picard, D
Subtractions: Maxime Talbot, C; Michael Rupp, C/W; Chris Conner, RW; Alex Kovalev, RW; Eric Godard, RW; Mike Comrie, C
Up-and-comers: Eric Tangradi, LW; Simon Despres, C
The Penguins were originally one of the front-runners in the Jagr negotiations, but it obviously didn’t work out. The Penguins didn’t travel too far out of the igloo to acquire free agents after the situation.
The two players that Penguins fans are eagerly waiting to see put on a Penguins sweater in training camp are Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You may have heard of them.
Crosby missed the final half of the season last year with a concussion. Malkin is expected to be fully recovered from knee surgery that cut his season short in February. While they are two of the top players in the league, you never know what to expect out of a player after they return from injury.
The signings of Sullivan, MacIntyre and Picard shouldn’t be viewed as, “that’s all the Penguins did this off-season?” These signings were to add depth to an already skilled team. Remember, this team had A LOT of injuries to close out the season and they still finished second in the division (tied with the Flyers for first, but lost the tiebreaker). Expect the Penguins to be a threat, again.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Last season: 44-33-5, 93 points (third place Atlantic, eighth place Eastern)
Additions: Brad Richards, C; Michael Rupp, C/W
Subtractions: Chris Drury, C; Vinny Prospal, C; Alex Frolov, LW; Matt Gilroy, D; Bryan McCabe, D
Up-and-comers: Pavel Valentenko, D; Dylan McIlrath, D; Tim Erixon, D; Christian Thomas, RW, Dale Weise, RW
Goodbye, Chris Drury. Hello new number one center, Mike Rupp.
Brad Richards signed a nine year, $60-million deal to become the team center the team has desperately been searching for to pair up with Marian Gaborik. Fans hope the two immediately “click” and become one of the fiercest dynamic-duo’s in Gotham City.
Sahil Patel, a longtime Rangers fan, said, “I’m cautiously optimistic that they will connect because Richards is an elite playmaker and knows how to get the puck to where the sniper wants it and Gaborik works best when he is free of the puck is able to skate around and find his spots.”
The Rangers were able to avoid arbitration with two of their core players, Brendan Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. The two are pivotal parts of the Rangers future. Dubinsky has gotten better in each season that he has played, and losing Callahan at the end of the season really hurt the Rangers chances.
The Rangers offense seems to be stable, but what about their defense.
Steve Eminger will lead a defense filled with youngsters Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer and Michael Del Zotto.
One Rangers supporter, Tony Grater, is hopeful for the defense this season, “Girardi and Staal are as solid as it gets, but if Sauer and McDonagh regress, we could be in trouble. But I have faith that they will be fine and develop further.”
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Last season: 30-39-13, 73 points (fifth place Atlantic; 14th place Eastern)
Additions: Marty Reasoner, C; Brian Rolston RW
Subtractions: Bruno Gervais, D; Rob Schremp, C; Radek Martinek, D; Doug Weight, C; Zenon Konopka, C; Jesse Joensuu, LW
Up-and-comers: Nino Niederreiter, RW; Calvin de Haan, D; Ryan Strome, C
The Islanders will continue to their rebuilding phase this season. Shocker.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Islanders can be a playoff team, but a team that needs to try to persuade a player—whose contract they’re still trying to pay off—to come back to play for them just so that they can reach the cap floor, cannot be taken seriously.
At least the islanders were able to acquire Brian Rolston from the Devils. He’ll be a top-6 forward for the Islanders. Totally worth the $5-milion cap hit. Right? Good luck.
No worries. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers, of the American Hockey League, will have a stacked, young team this season. The AHL is where you will find most of the Islanders prospects. If they’re not there, you can always look in major junior hockey.
Ryan Strome, the teams first round, fifth overall, draft pick, reached YouTube stardom with a shootout goal during the team’s development camp. Sadly, many feel Strome might be a year away from being NHL ready.
The only thing guiding hope for Isles fans are the hopeful, healthy returns of Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo. This, behind the offense of Tavares, Grabner and Moulson, are the only good things the Islanders have going for them at the moment.
The Islanders did trade for Christian Ehrhoff and tried to sign him before he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
James Harding, a local Islanders enthusiast, said, “I was very, although pleasantly, surprised when they traded for Erhoff, and was glad that they made the effort that they did to add a top quality, top pair defenseman who just captained the powerplay of the Western Conference champs.”
Isles GM, Garth Snow, gave a self-imposed one day deadline to say Ehrhoff. Unable to strike a deal, Ehrhoff was traded to Buffalo where he was eventually signed.
The Islanders didn’t make any big moves this season, nor will they make any big moves any time soon.
Islanders fan, Jimmy Ventura said, “Until we get a new building, free agents do not want to come.”
Interesting enough, Long Island does have a vote coming up on August 1st to see if the Islanders will get a new arena.
Personally, I believe while the Islanders have impressive offense, their weak, young defense (which will eventually help them) will come back to haunt them. Ironic, no?
Follow Kevin Lankey on Twitter: @kevinlankey