April 2009 in Review

This was not a good month for the Devils or their fans.

It started off with an upward trend.  The first game of the month absolute horror of a loss in Pittsburgh.  It was a very cruel April Fool's joke as the Devils went winless in their sixth straight game.  Despair was apparent. Yet, the Devils ultimately smashed the slump, but not in a really powerful way.  Martin Brodeur was honored for his 552nd win before the game against Tampa Bay, Kevin Weekes went down with an injury in the game, and Brodeur had to step in.  While Brodeur was beaten on some ridiculously well set up chances by Tampa Bay, the Devils' offense pushed on to win in overtime.   When you go 6 games without a win, getting a win by itself is big.

The Devils would go on to continue winning close games, with the exception of one loss.  They went into Buffalo, a team who was then desperate and with a real (and then slipping) chance to make the playoffs, and withstood a third period flurry to win 3-2.  Disappointment reared it's ugly head along with a team of ugly heads: as the Devils just were frustrated by Toronto in a 4-1 loss.   The Devils prevented slipping back into a slump by winning their last 2 games. The first, a shootout win against a then-hot and then-spoiling Ottawa Senators team.  It was an monumental win as it clinched yet another Atlantic Division title for the Devils, home ice for the first round again, and it broke a franchise record for wins as it was their 50th.

The second was a strong 3-2 win over Carolina, which helped ensure that the Devils would play the Hurricanes in the first round in the playoffs.  It set the Devils at 51 wins and it proven that the Devils could, in fact, beat Carolina.  An important thing to know when going into a playoff series against them.

You all know what happened in the series, so I won't belabor each game. To quickly sum it up, the Devils would look good, then the Canes would take the next game. Each team traded off wins and performances as both goaltenders sparkled for each team - making nearly every goal important and coming off a chance that both Ward, Brodeur, and pretty much most other goaltender would have little chance at stopping the puck.   Yet, the series ended the worst way possible for New Jersey in that now infamous Game 7 in a very infamous 80 seconds.  After all that was accomplished this season, the only way I think it could have been any worse is if it was at the hands of a hated rival.

And so the 2008-09 season has officially ended for the New Jersey Devils.  Not with a celebration. Not with a reason to smile.  But with a shocking ending to a hard-fought, ultimately even (it did go to 7 games, those some talk as if it didn't) series.  The choice was death or glory, and the season is now lying in the dirt.

As is customary with these monthly reviews is to pick a Devil of the Month.  The one New Jersey Devil who stood out for the whole month with their impressive play. 

Given the recent first round loss, it's tempting to pick no one.  It's even more tempting when no one made truly made this month their own.  I've come to a decision of sorts, though.  Other than that it definitely is not a defenseman.

If we're only talking about the regular season;  Zach Parise did compile 3 goals, 2 assists, and 25 shots on goal in the 6 regular season games, not to mention 3 goals, 3 assists, and 27 shots on goal in the playoffs.  He's always hustling and he's always causing a headache for the defense, as well as giving

But April featured a little thing called the playoffs and that cannot be ignored.

If we were only talking about the playoffs alone, it's Martin Brodeur. And let me start this with a bolded disclaimer.  BRODEUR DID NOT LOSE THIS SERIES FOR THE DEVILS, IF ANYTHING, HE'S THE MAIN REASON IT WENT 7 GAMES AT ALL.   That felt good to type. Despite the narrative that others may push and whatever criticism I'm sure to get for that, I certainly do think it's true.

Both goaltenders in this series truly stood out and it's why the series was so close to begin with.  If you have seen every game in this series, Brodeur was the only Devil you could honestly say showed up for every game with every intention of doing well. And he did so in pretty much every game to the tune of a 92.9 Sv%, a 2.38 GAA, and a shutout.  His performance in Game 5 was nothing short of glorious, the apex of his playoffs this year.  Even in Game 6, Brodeur did his best to keep it close for a Devils team that couldn't handle Carolina's intensity, yet he had no chance on the goals that beat him. (Aside: The same applies for Ward too, neither fanbase should have no shame in how they played.)

If you're blaming Brodeur, you're not just wrong in assigning blame; you're also excusing a defense that bended far too much and an offense that couldn't provide the goal support it did in the regular season.  I'd also question whether you even watched the series or just watched highlights and checked the scores. 

But no matter.  This isn't about the playoffs only. So who was the best in both areas?  Parise was effectively kept quiet in Games 4, 5 and 6 despite his usual effort.  I mean, he was still shooting, it just wasn't enough.  Brodeur wasn't solid at all in April with a 87.9 save percentage (the fill-in work for Weekes really hurt these numbers), though he was the difference maker in many of those one-goal wins. So it's neither Parise or Brodeur.

Consider...Jamie Langenbrunner.

The Captain led the Devils in goals in the month with 4, and he had as many points as Parise with 5, while possessing the powerful shot on the ZZ Pops line. His April performance completed a marvelous comeback season to finish with 29 goals and 40 assists.  Proof that hockey players do not always fall after age 31.

In the playoffs, Langenbrunner had a great start in Game 1.  He was skating real well as ZZ Pops caused all kinds of problems for Carolina's defense.  In addition to an assist on Parise's first of the playoffs, he came up with a fantastic response to Carolina's third period and only goal of Game 1 by slotting it over Cam Ward's shoulder.   Alas, Langenbrunner left Game 2 in the middle of the second on a power play with injury and in doing so he missed Games 3, 4, and 5.   He returned in Game 6, shook off the rust, and had a solid performance in Game 7 with a goal of his own.  We learned from Gulitti after Game 7 the injury was a torn meniscus in his right knee and he had to get surgery for it.  And he came back to play for the Devils.

If that's not a big enough tribute to how important the playoffs are to the players as well as evidence of Langenbrunner's desire, then I don't know what is.  He managed to have knee surgery right after Game 2 and to come back, practice, and play in a playoff series in less than 2 weeks.  That's most certainly impressive!!!   OK, his numbers don't scream that he was a star in April.  In my view, though, he's the only Devil I can think of that one could argue had an impressive April, all things considered.

So I name Jamie Langenbrunner as the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for April 2009!


Jamie Langenbrunner

#15 / Right Wing / New Jersey Devils

6-1

205

Jul 24, 1975

April 2009 Devil of the Month

Regular Season Stats: 6 GP, 4 G, 1 A, 17 SOG

Playoff Stats: 4 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 16 SOG - CAME BACK FROM SURGERY WITHIN THE PLAYOFFS SERIOUSLY WHO DOES THIS


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