Devils 2011-12 Season In Review. Let’s Take a Walk.
Added by Michael DiGiacomo on June 29, 2012.
The 2011-12 Eastern Conference Champion, New Jersey Devils
If you’re a Devils fan, you always get excited for another season of hockey in New Jersey because you know our team is exciting to watch. Every single fan has that one memory from this season that you’ll probably talk about for a long time. Whether you witnessed it live, watched it on TV, tuned in on AM radio, or caught updates on the team’s site the next day, you’ll have something to talk about for a long time. Let’s relive the best parts of the 2011-2012 New Jersey Devils season together.
The NJ Devils kicked off their 2011-12 season on June 24th by drafting the Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson 4th overall. He appeared in his first NHL game at 18 years old and scored his first NHL goal on November 11th against Washington’s Tomas Vokoun the day before he turned 19. He was also elected to the 2012 NHL All Star Rookies Skills Competition but passed on the opportunity to rest an injury. He played in 62 regular season games compiling two goals, 16 assists, and finished a -7. Playoff stats were five games played, one goal, and a +3. The coaching staff loves him and has been raving about his skill ever since he stepped on the ice. Many compare him to Nicklas Lidstrom and he has a long, bright future ahead of him.
On July 19, 2011, Peter DeBoer, the Florida Panthers former head coach, was named the 16th head coach in New Jersey Devils history. DeBoer struggled the following two years with his squad in Florida and was let go with one year left on his contract. After he was contracted in the summer by the Devils, DeBoer helped coach the team back to a 100pt season and get back in the playoff picture after missing the post season for the first time in 14 seasons. Along the way he sent home his former team, the Florida Panthers, the Philadelphia Flyers, the #1 seeded Atlantic Division rival New York Rangers, and came up short in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings in 6 games. I think Devils fans are happy to know who will be behind the bench next season and that we’ll have a solid roster to make a post season run again in 12-13.
Patrik Elias has to be a favorite on your list of Devils past and present. He is definitely the tortoise of the team. He’s always consistent, a great team player, and a leader for those becoming a New Jersey Devil. You don’t have a lot of players that compete in the NHL with one team for their entire career and the Devils have had three (Elias, Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur). Patrik also tied John MacLean in goals scored and then passed him with a second goal on December 17, 2011 to take over the most goals and points by a player (approaching 900) in franchise history. On January 6th, he played in his 1000th game. With those numbers, some solid international accomplishments, and a few etchings on the Stanley Cup, you can bet he’ll be a future Hall of Famer.
Dainius Zubrus & Petr Sykora. Two more forwards topping the 1000 games played mark and I’m glad they did it in a Devils sweater. Devil fans have seen former Devils return to the lineup after getting dealt to other teams in the past. I did not expect to see Sykora on the roster after hearing his name surface in the training camp conversations. At age 35, not only did he play in all 82 regular season games, he was one of five 20 goal scorers this season (David Clarkson, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias). He gave the Devils the scoring depth they needed and proved he can still compete at a high level.
Dainius Zubrus is just your good old Lithuanian work horse. He is a great power forward, drives the net, finishes checks, and just was everywhere on the ice this season. Zubrus had the best chance of his career this past season to win a cup but fell short. Also playing in 1000 games, he offers size the Devils need upfront they haven’t had in a long time. Looking forward to see if coming within two games of winning the cup sparks anything for 12-13.
I did nothing but smile when I heard opposing fans call our legendary goaltender fat, old, and Devils can’t compete for a cup anymore without the trap, Scott Stevens, Scott Neidermayer, and Brian Rafalski. Well, guess what? We didn’t play the trap this year, we didn’t have those three HOF defenseman (one yet to be on a ballot), and our turned 40 goaltender was a major reason we even made it to the cup finals for the first time in nine seasons. Not only did Martin Brodeur notch another 30 win season, he broke Patrick Roy’s playoff shutout record (24), helped solidify an Eastern Conference Championship, and almost got to lift the Stanley Cup for a 4th time in his NHL career. Marty made some incredible saves all season and into the post season that just wow’d you. From robbing Phil Kessel in the regular season, to deflating any hope of what looked to be a guaranteed goal by Marc Staal in the conference finals, he just continues to impress anyone that watches him and hopefully as a proud, lifetime Devils fan, we did not see Marty’s last good cup run. I’m hoping for one more for old time sake.
Two words. ADAM. HENRIQUE. What a breath of fresh air and excitement this Canadian kid was. Every situation both good and bad, gives that one player an opportunity to make a name for himself and Adam Henrique did just that. Travis Zajac is a huge piece of the puzzle at center and provides strength in the playoff circle and breakouts into the opponents end. With a damaged Achillies tendon, Zajac missed a good chunk of the season but Henrique stepped right in and filled a huge void. The Devils killed off 89.6% of penalties they faced, they also led the league with 15 SHG. 4 of those scored by Henrique. On top of being a penalty kill phenom, he amassed 51 points in 74 games, and had two of the biggest overtime GWG’s of his career and probably two of the better ones in Devils history. He scored the double OT game winner in Game 7 over Florida and in Henrik Lundqvist’s crease, all the chaos led to a Game 6 OT goal that sent the NYR home and the Devils to their 5th cup final. Topped off with a Calder finalist nomination, it was a miraculous year for this kid and I’m excited to see what he does this upcoming season.
The only retirement ceremony I missed was Ken Daneyko’s. There is no doubt in my mind that Scott Neidermayer was deserving of his night at The Prudential Center. The most decorated defenseman to ever play the game, he has won every major title there is to win in the sport of hockey. He also helped the Devils bring home their first and second Stanley Cup. He set the bar for defenseman coming into the game and dazzled anyone who watched his ability to carry the puck end to end and finish. The Devils have gotten flack from outside parties about how quickly they retire numbers but it’s hard to not recognize those individuals when they all have made significant contributions to this organization. Watching the highlights of his career and seeing Neidermayer one last time brought back many memories. Some of you probably cried with tears of joy and if you were there to share with the 18,000 fans in the house, you won’t ever forget that night. One thing I can assure is the next retirement night will be a real tear jerker. In Scott Neidermayer’s 12 seasons with the NJ Devils he played in 892 games, recorded 476 points, and lifted 2 Stanley Cups in a Devils sweater.
Two unexpected bodies made some noise as well during the regular season and playoffs for the Devils. Alexei Ponikarovsky and Bryce Salvador. Alexei was a great pick up because the Devils virtually gave up nothing to get him from Carolina. He provided some needed size up front and generated 18 points in 33 games with the Devils and only 15 in 49 for the Hurricanes. Plus, he generated 9 postseason points in 24 games played and his one and only goal in the playoffs was an overtime winner over the Flyers where he picked up and buried a rebound off his own shot. Salvador was a big mystery to everyone because he did not play the entire 2010-11 season because of concussion issues. Some thought he’d never play again. We lacked in size on defense and Bryce provided that once he was able to lace up again. With a relatively quiet regular season at only 9 assists, he was a nightmare to other teams in the post season leading the Devils at 3rd in post season points tallying 4 goals and 10 assists in 24 games.
Everyone challenged the Devils depth for years. We didn’t have it. No one putting up any decent numbers beyond the 1st and 2nd lines. Well, that changed. While the numbers were not astounding, Steve Bernier, Steven Gionta, and Ryan Carter were thorns in the side for every team this post season, and lines that played against them. With an average weight of 201.6 lbs, that line generated offense, hits, and constant pressure in the offensive end that other teams couldn’t solve. It was fun to watch and see someone like Gio 2.0 come in late in the season and be a spark plug for that line. While every player on that line is a UFA, I’d be shocked if all three were not back in Devils sweaters for 12-13. (2 of the 3 players signed for 2012-13 as of 6/28)
The most controversial deal of all came when we picked up Marek Zidlicky from the Minnesota Wild. nine out of 10 Devils fans you talked to, probably even a lot of you reading this article, did not like the trade and that we gave up way too much for him (Kurtis Foster, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux, a 2nd rd pick in ’13 and a conditional 3rd rd pick in ’13).
While everyone’s knee jerk reaction was dumb move, Zidlicky won fans over as the season and post season progressed. Regardless of being on the ice for some clutch goals by NYR’s and King’s forwards, he provided some nice work on the blue line that we needed. Someone who provided good puck control, a solid point shot, and some great offensive skill through the neutral and offensive zone, I was happy to see how he developed and fit into our system. We’ve always had good puck moving defenseman and it’s nice to see a few in our system again.
Two series Devils fans can be extremely proud of winning. Round 2, Eastern Conference semi-finals vs Philadelphia and the Eastern Conference Finals vs the NYR. Not one person outside of those in red and black expected us to win either of these series. Especially with the game the Flyers played vs the Penguins and how the Rangers dominated the Eastern Conference this year. There was nothing sweeter than winning 4 straight over the Broad Street Bullies to send them home, and having our rookie sensation, Adam Henrique bury the game winning goal in Game 6 at The Prudential Center to send home the #1 seeded New York Rangers. I don’t have to say anything else. You know you’re smiling reliving the ECF.
I decided to wrap up my season in review with who Martin Brodeur now calls the face of the New Jersey Devils, Zach Parise. Devils fans missed this Minnesota native for 69 regular season games in 2010-11 due to injury. With the way he played in 106 games this year, it’s no wonder we were anticipating his return. While his stats were relatively quiet in the last two rounds of the Stanley Cup, he was 2nd on the team in goals and 3rd overall in points.
Peter DeBoer knew just from spending some time with Zach that he was deserving of and possessed every quality required to be deserving of the “C”. He leads by example and does not stop pushing every shift he’s out there. You will rarely see him make a mistake or go easy on a shift. Zach brings energy to the bench and on the ice pushing everyone around him to play better.
While the summer and off season will keep every Devil fan in a state of stress and leave the imagination to wonder as Parise becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1st and might weigh out all options before determining what team he possibly plays the rest of his career with. One team we can definitely rule out is the New York Rangers as Zach with enthusiasm expressed his desire to never be on that team. The team loves him, the coaches love him, and his fans love him. Here’s to hoping he is the face of the organization for years to come and we can provide to him what he’s in search of.
Hopefully this helped bring back some great memories for all of you. Writing this piece helped me relive the past season and understand that so many great things have happened for our fans and this club. Our future is bright. Regardless of who comes and goes, we will prove to the NHL and our fans that the New Jersey Devils have a lot more history to write. I hope I live a long, happy, healthy life to get to experience what Devils hockey has to offer.