Dec. 2008 in Review; Devil of the Month

December started off very well for the New Jersey Devils and despite a sour end, it was a good month overall.  The Devils started the month by going 6-1-1 in the first three weeks of the month.  However, they slipped in the holidays by going 3-3-0 in their last 6 games of 2008.  Nevertheless, that's a monthly record of 9-4-1 and that's not bad. The Devils climbed up from fourth in the division to third and are within striking distance of currently-second place Philadelphia and currently-first place Rangers.  Truth be told, it was a pretty solid month, who now stand at 21-12-3.

For an additional perspective and a breakdown of each player, Scott Mackie has his December 2008 month in review at 2 Man Advantage.

The Devils began the month right after having a 5 game winning streak broken by Pittsburgh on November 29.  How do the Devils respond?  Another winning streak, of course!  The Devils go on to win their next 4 games in a multitude of impressive wins.  For starters, they beat the Flyers in Philadelphia and the Canadiens in Montreal in overtime.  Not easy to do against two tough teams and especially on the road, but the Devils got it done.  The Devils would then get some revenge at the Rock against Pittsburgh and soundly beat them 4-1, a win that gave me confidence for the next game.  Then came December 12, one of the wildest games I've ever seen the Devils play and that includes November 15's 6-5 shootout win over Washington.  The Devils dominated, got equalized, and then took over the game again to defeat Our Hated Rivals at the Rock 8-5.  Needless to say, I and pretty much all Devils fans loved the game. 

That would be the end of the good times for the time being, as Buffalo came to the Rock the very next night and did well, where the Devils didn't have much left, to win 4-2. And concern would mount as the Devils traveled up to Toronto, came back to tie it, yet lost 3-2 in a shootout.  Two games the Devils didn't win in a row in a tough, competitive division.  Did the magic stop?  Would the Devils crumble?  Would things turn, as they say, pear-shaped?

No. The Devils would go on to win their next three games: revenge on the road against Buffalo with a solid 5-3 win; the Devils dominating the then-goal-stingiest team in the league Ottawa by a 5-1 margin (to which many Devils fans elated, "YES!"); and the Devils scraping an extra point in the shootout against Philadelphia on a Sunday afternoon. The first two wins were examples of the Devils working hard and putting the opposition to the sword.  The win over the Flyers, well, that was a sloppy game; but they got a result against a division rival and that's the important thing.

Then things went awry over the next 5 games.  Like catching larengitis, the Devils forgot how to finish plays and got shutout in games against Boston and Pittsburgh at home.  The Devils played some excellent defense in those games and were at least competitive with Boston; but the Devils were defeated by an inability to put the puck home with any of their scoring chances. The loss to Boston didn't bother me much since they are one of the best teams in both ends in the league - and it was only 2-0 (1-0 + Empty Net).  Though, the Pittsburgh loss was particularly frustrating for a number (2) of reasons.   The Devils would go on the road to end the month and, amazingly, the Devils' defense was actually pretty poor against St. Louis and Dallas as opposed to being nearly-rock-solid against Boston and Pittsburgh.  The team conceeded too many chances, they didn't play smart hockey, and while the offense was able to bail the Devils out in St. Louis, Dallas' pressure was just too much for the Devils to generate many chances and got a deserved loss.

Oh, wait, I forgot that the Devils played 3 road games to end the month.  It happened to be at MSG against the Rangers, and it was fantastic.  A 4-2 win on the road against your hated rivals; re-discovering the ways and means to finish plays after two games where it didn't happen, and it was a crucial win as it helped New Jersey gain ground on everyone else going into St. Louis.  I mention this last because I think what Devils will get out of this month is that, yes, they did very well to start the month; yes, they trended down to end it; yes, the Devils are still in the running in the Atlantic but didn't make a major move up in the division; the highlights of the month are definitely smacking the Rangers right in the mouth in the 8-5 and 4-2 wins against them. And, really, there isn't too much better than kicking your rivals around for a bit.

Now, that's the month in an incredibly large nutshell.  Who was the best Devil in December?  In my eyes, there are three worthy candidates.  The first is Zach Parise, who had a splendid month.  He remained as the Devils' leading scorer with 8 goals and 10 assists.  His best games came on the 8-5 win against the Rangers and the 5-1 win against the Senators, where he put up 4 assists in each game. His hustle and tenacity to stay with the play is not only intact, but it has become contagious as other Devils (e.g. Dainius Zubrus, Brian Gionta, Travis Zajac).  However, it's not him.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Zach Parise 36 21 23 44 11 12 6 0 3 2 155 13.5

The second candidate is Scott Clemmensen.  And why not? He's done far more to exceed expectations.  Poor rebound control and a not-at-all confidence-inducing style of play, aside, you cannot argue with the results Clemmensen gets.  He has gone up against some of the best forwards in the league and more often than not, he comes out of it with a save. And by starting all but one game in December, it's proof he can handle the workload of games. He currently has the fifth best goals against average in the league along with the eighth best save percentage; and he's been in net for all of the Devils' wins in December.   You cannot attribute all of that just to the guys in front of him.  Still, I don't feel he's been the best Devil.


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Scott Clemmensen 21 1237 13 6 1 4 46 2.23 601 555 .923 0

The best Devil in December was Patrik Elias.  Don't get me wrong, Parise and Clemmensen has had excellent months and I appreciate them both.  But Elias went from a strong November, 6 goals and 10 assists, and had an even better December.  Elias compiled 9 goals - 2 game winners - and 10 assists, while playing in nearly all situations (even strength, power play, penalty kill, 4-on-4, and shootout).   Elias has used his skill wonderfully in setting up his linemates with excellent passes, while using it himself to bury a chance when he's got nothing but the keeper in front of him.  He gets involved in traffic and comes out of clean, as Elias' has been tagged for only 2 minor penalties this month.  But the most impressive feat has been his 9 game point-streak in December. That streak actually began on November 29, so it was really 10 games; and it was only broken against Boston where no Devil got on the scoresheet.    That is excellent consistency and he's been a big reason for the Devils' success in the beginning of the month. He's enjoying his hockey and it's for everyone's benefit.  For all this, I name Patrik Elias the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for December 2008 for the second straight time.


Patrik Elias

#26 / Left Forward / New Jersey Devils

6-1

195

Apr 13, 1976

December 2008 ILWT Devil of the Month

GP: 14 G: 9 A: 10 PIM: 4 S: 44


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