Pictured: Ilya Kovalchuk trying to do something in the playoffs. Believe it or not, this is more than I can say for, say, David Clarkson or Jamie Langenbrunner. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Truthfully, the month can be divided into two halves. The first half was the end of the 2009-10 regular season. The New Jersey Devils finished up the season strong at 4-1-1 and the two losses weren't bad losses by any means. After a mixed March, how the Devils went into the postseason was good. Two shutout wins, two out of three wins on the final road trip of the season, and two wins at home to end the season. Where they faltered In the process, the Devils sealed up the Atlantic Division and the #2 seed in the East on the final weekend of the season. The Devils ended the season at 48-27-7. You really couldn't ask for much more given the circumstance.
The second half was the playoffs and that's what people will remember the most about not just the month of April in 201, but the season as a whole. They drew the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, a team they only beat once in the regular season, and proceeded to only beat them one more time in the playoffs. The Devils were eliminated in 5 games, the final one being a 3-0 shutout loss at the Rock. An embarrassing loss, a third straight first round elimination, and all to a rival. That will be the lasting mark on this season.April in Review: Regular Season Recaps
When I stated prior to the jump that the Devils didn't have a bad game, I believe I made that clear in the recap to each game.
- 2-1 shootout loss to that Chicago Blackhawks that featured an annoying late goal against.
- 4-0 shutout win over Carolina Hurricanes on the road that made a statement.
- 3-0 shutout win over Atlanta Thrashers on the road, which eliminated the Thrashers from playoff contention, and set two milestones for Martin Brodeur: 600 wins and 110 shutouts.
- 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on the road where Scott Clemmensen played out of his mind.
- 7-1 win over the New York Islanders that was just an absolute blowout and secured the Atlantic Division combined with a Pittsburgh Penguins' loss to Atlanta that night.
- 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres that secured the #2 seed with a rare empty net game winning power play goal.
Unfortunately, the momentum generated from going 4-1-1, from an offense getting comfortable with scoring multiple goals as well as piling strong shots on net, and a team defense that conceded merely 6 goals against in 6 games didn't transfer over to the games that mean more and will be remembered more.
April in Review: Playoff Recaps
The Devils drew the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round and lost 4-1 in the first round. No, it didn't go nearly as well as the regular season portion of April. Here's the links to the recaps with a brief synopsis.
- Game 1: 1-2 Flyers - The Devils get a late one against a Flyers team sitting in a defensive shill, but it was too little, too late to crack the Flyers' defense.
- Game 2: 5-3 Devils - The Devils were able to break through Philadelphia's defense and make Brian Boucher look like who he really is on offense. Even when the Flyers got breaks and power plays and goals, the Devils didn't relent and their resolve helped them carry through the game.
- Game 3: 2-3 (OT) Flyers - Despite two power play goals, tying up the game late in the second period, the Devils skaters faded completely out of the game in the third period. Martin Brodeur was the sole reason why the game went to an overtime but the game proved that, no, a goalie can't do everything when the rest of the team in front of him is playing well below level.
- Game 4: 1-4 Flyers - The Devils strike first, have a good first period, and then got outplayed in the second and third period to lose decisively and put the series on the brink.
Game 5: 0-3 Flyers - I've written far too many words about this game. This was just horrible.
If you must read any single recap that sums up how the series went, make it the Game 5 recap. The problems and criticisms I wrote about the Devils in that recap plagued them all series long. Poor shooting accuracy, a power play that wasted opportunities as if it was going out of style, a defense and goaltender that suffered because of a tepid offense, and most of all - a lack of intensity and mental toughness on the ice.
And with an awful display at the Rock, so ended the 2009-10 season for the New Jersey Devils.
Devil of the Month
Devil of the Month Honorable Mention:
I must make this clear: for this, I am considering the whole month. I'm not giving out separate distinctions for the playoffs. If I did, the regular season version would go to Martin Brodeur for his 4-1-1 record, two road shutouts, and allowing of 6 goals against in the final 6 games of the season. He was excellent. While he's the furthest thing from a major problem within the playoffs, despite what moronic people may say in the media, I cannot say he was as excellent as he was in the regular season. So he does not get this distinction, but I felt he should be noted for this.
Likewise, if I had an award for hardest working playoff performer, it'd go to Dainius Zubrus. He had only one goal in the postseason, so the lack of playoff production hurts him in this regard. But he screened Boucher masterfully on both of Brian Rolston's goals in Game 4. Even when the rest of the team seemed off or were rendered ineffective, he stormed down low and in the corners constantly. But he did manage 2 goals and 4 assists in the regular season in 5 games, with a 4 game point streak. He only missed one game due to a stomach virus, but he finished real strong. No, his final statline doesn't have him stick out, but I think he represents a litmus test for Devils fans. If you can recognize how well Zubrus meshes well with Zach Parise, how he creates problems for defenders down low and along the boards, and how well he cycles, then you truly understand his benefit to the team.
Come to think of it, between all of that and the fact he was one of the few Devils forwards who didn't disappear at all in the first round, I grant him the In Lou We Trust Honorable Mention for Devil of the Month of April 2010.
|April 2010 - Dainius Zubrus||5||2||4||6
|Playoffs 2010 - Dainius Zubrus||5
In fact, because of the sharp contrast between the regular season performances in April and the playoff performances in April, it's difficult to identify who on the Devils stood-out (positively) and in a somewhat consistent fashion. I'm sure I'm going to get a lot of grief for this pick, but who else should it be but the one Devil who had some real confidence going into Game 5. I am, of course, referring to:
The In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for March 2010, Ilya Kovalchuk
|April 2010 - Ilya Kovalchuk||6||2||5||7||4||0||0||0||0||0||25||8.0|
|Playoffs 2010 - Ilya Kovalchuk||5||2||4||6||0||6||1||0||0||0||19||10.5|
Based on what I've heard yelled in the stands, I'm sure some Devils fans think that Kovalchuk didn't do enough because he didn't score enough goals. Even though that assists set up goals, I'm sure some are willing to go out and say the trade back in February was a mistake and Kovalchuk doesn't fit here and he'll never stay and whatever else they feel. I know, I know, he's the new guy, the big name, and he didn't put this team over the proverbial top.
While I'm sure he wished he did more for New Jersey as well; quite frankly, I think he didn't do all that bad in April. Was Kovalchuk absolutely great in the playoffs? No. He wasn't disciplined in Game 2, he didn't register a shot on goal in Game 3, and he couldn't get anything on the board in Games 1 or 5 - not due to a lack of trying but trying to do too much per se. Not that some of his linemates - Jamie Langenbrunner - helped all that much.
Still, he was the most productive and the best of an inconsistent offense that played well below their abilities. He followed his solid April production in the regular season with solid numbers in the playoffs. Consider that no other Devil did that. Consider that Kovalchuk was the only Devil other than Zach Parise to contribute points in three playoffs games, more than any other Devil. Consider that Kovalchuk led the Devils in power play points with a goal and three assists. Consider that Kovalchuk limited his penalties to just Game 2; that while he had no shots on goal in Game 3 he had both primary assists on Brian Rolston's power play goals; and that while you can argue he attempted too much in general - it's a far better problem to have than players who underperformed, which could be said about most of the team.
I understand this could be construed as a backhanded compliment, but in the valley of the blind, the man with one eye is king. Kovalchuk stands out for this reason as one of the few Devils who wasn't horrible in the postseason and because he was just above a point per game in both the playoffs and regular season, he gets my distinction for Devil of the Month.
#17 / Left Wing / New Jersey Devils
Apr 15, 1983
April 2010 Devil of the Month
Combined: GP: 13, G: 4, A: 9, +4, 6 PIM, 44 SOG
Please leave your thoughts about how April 2010 went for the New Jersey Devils, the Devil of the Month, and anything related to that in the comments.