The puck finally dropped on January 19th after a 113 day ordeal between the NHL & NHLPA. Tremors of disgust littered social media by fans who vowed they’ve spent their last dollar on a ticket to a hockey game. Most expressed how the league and individual franchises should go above and beyond this year to really express their gratitude for fans that returned. But quite honestly, when it came down to it, the best gift of all was hockey and that’s all we (the fans) cared about.
An average attendance around the league for the first week came in at 18,101 per-game. 6.6% higher than last season’s attendance at this point, which is a skewed statistic because the game we loved wasn’t ripped away from us at this point last season as fans swarmed back. Worth noting, this wasn’t a players lockout, it was an owners lockout. Despite the disgust, the fans came back quicker than Henrik Lundqvist’s goals against average.
So let’s recap what’s been happening to the boys in red, white, and black.
A few changes took place over the summer and fall for the New Jersey Devils leading up to the active roster today. Zach Parise signed with the Wild, Scott Stevens & Matt Shaw replaced Adam Oates & Larry Robinson on the bench with Pete DeBoer, Alexei Ponikarovsky went to Winnipeg, Petr Sykora is playing overseas in Switzerland, and 1st round draft pick Stefan Matteau is seeing some ice time through the first four games.
So, two major questions surfaced.
1) How will the Devils fair without star LW Zach Parise?
2) Can Martin Brodeur mirror his performance from the 2011-12 season?
Despite the season being a fresh four games old, my short answer is they are doing just fine. You’re seeing a well rounded effort by each player on the roster and Marty has just been playing spectacular despite an OT loss to Montreal last night which wasn’t because of his lack of play that we handed over a 2nd point to the Canadians. While David Clarkson & Patrik Elias lead the team in points right now, Martin Brodeur is helping the team win by coming through on some timely saves to give the 22 in front of him a chance to lead the Atlantic Division.
Last night was the first time this season the Devils allowed any 1st period goals and despite an overtime loss, New Jersey has managed to bank seven out of eight points. Not a terrible start by any means.
While away, I didn’t have the ability to take in the Devils first game versus the Islanders but I was hearing nothing but good things. Matteau had a great game, Brodeur I heard was solid between the pipes, and we got a pair of goals from two names you’ll see on the score sheet often. Travis Zajac and David Clarkson. As much as the NY Islanders get brushed under the carpet, they’ve always been a headache for several teams including the Devils, so it was nice to see the Devils notch their first win on the road.
Opening night: Devils vs Flyers. What better way to ring in a new season then with a matchup against a bitter Atlantic Division rival for opening night? After winning four straight in the post season to send the Flyers packing, Devils fans came out in force and not only sent the Flyers home 0-2, The Rock was not overrun with Flyers fans. It was almost a playoff atmosphere again and despite the Flyers out playing the Devils for most of the game, Marty recorded his 120th career shutout turning away all 24 shots on goal by the Flyers. I was very impressed with Jacob Josefson and his development as a young player and Ilya Kovalchuk tallied his 2nd assist and first goal on a beauty of a back hand penalty shot.
Game 3 versus the Capitals and Game 4 versus the Montreal Canadians have to make any coach on the bench realize, we have work to do. The Devils were fortunate to collect seven of eight points but could easily be 2-2 through four games. The Devils started off strong against the Caps with plenty of scoring chances and taking a 2-0 lead. While the Caps at that point of the season were yet to record a win, they were able to tie the game at 2 and almost hand the Devils their first loss. A penalty by Mike Green gave the Devils power play a chance to go to work when it mattered. Kovalchuk one timed a wicked shot up high over Holtby to end the game. Even though the team collected both points that night, I was not happy with the breakout the Devils had on the power play as they had a tough time staying in the Caps end and controlling the puck. I was also not happy with the way the defense has been out of position and letting too much traffic gravitate towards Marty.
On top of those weaknesses, the Devils need to stay out of the penalty box. 12 penalties in two games is 12 too many. Even at 5th in the league with 87% on the penalty kill, they are going to hurt you at some point. You can’t constantly play with a man down.
Even though penalties were not as much of an issue vs Montreal, the defense was. The pressure in front of the net and catching the defense for the Devils out of position hurt them. Montreal had way too many scoring chances and applied lots of pressure down low forcing turnovers and keeping the puck in the Devils end quite a bit. DeBoer mentioned the Devils need to get off to a great start in the first period and that ultimately hurt them. Montreal has developed a nice line up. Markov is healthy, Price is playing well between the pipes, and young guns Galchenyuk and Diaz are remarkable to watch.
The Devils play one more on the road Tuesday in Boston and then head home to host the Islanders on Thursday. These will both be solid games for New Jersey to challenge their quality of play and sharpen their neutral zone and defensive zone strategy. Boston is fast, aggressive, and has good goaltending to back it up. The Isles have speed and burying the rubber averaging 4.5 goals per game. That number is obviously inflated because of the seven goals the Islanders netted over Toronto, the Devils all around are the better team. I expect they’ll be prepared to take down the Islanders and correct some issues we saw in the last 2 games.
Travis Zajac is really stepping up and helping fill a void left in the forward department. Once Henrique is healthy, that’ll be a needed boost the Devils are looking for. But Zajac is one of the go-to skaters that needs to deliver. He was extended for eight more years by the team and made it clear he wants to stay. I like the way he’s adapted his game to be a little more assertive on the forecheck which will help create turnovers and rack up some quality points this season.
Patrik Elias – A career player with one team as he notched his 900th career point last night in Montreal. Elias is always a player that flies under the radar and doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He’s averaged 86 points per season in 1046 games good for a tie with Tony Amonte for 96thall-time, 9th among active players, and 2nd among all 1994 draft picks. Daniel Alfredsson leads the way with 1,085 points.
Jacob Josefson – He looks bigger, seems better with the puck this year, and is creating many scoring chances. This will add some depth to the roster as he starts to mature into a fabulous winger for the club. He’s a smart hockey player, is selfless, and really developing into a fun player to watch. I’m hoping to see him put up at least 15 goals this season, maybe 20 (I said maybe), if he can stay injury free and use the speed he has to his advantage to break the D and lead the charge towards the oppositions goaltender.
Martin Brodeur – I can’t say enough about the level of competition Marty brings to the game. If you saw him at the Operation Hat Trick game in Atlantic City, you’d think this was going to be a tough start for Marty. But he’s proved everyone wrong, again. The Devils get 0 credit and recognition when predictions come out for divisional, conference, and playoff picks. I’m fine with it because we prove everyone wrong every season and have a culture of playoff hockey in NJ. I hope Marty realizes that he needs to take full advantage of this shortened season. With the lockout causing many lost games and only 1 more year on his contract in 2013-14, he doesn’t have many chances at a cup. It’s time to step it up and prove everyone wrong again. His stats through 4 games are 1.69 GAA, 4 wins, 1 shutout, .932 save %, 7 goals on 103 shots, and coming up on 1200 games played. Considering last year’s best save % was .940, I can live with his numbers and so could ever Devils fan if he stays on this road.