The past two games for the New Jersey Devils
over the weekend really encapsulated what was right and wrong with this team. I will begin with the victory over the Panthers
on Saturday, continue with the terrible loss yesterday to the arch rival Rangers
, and conclude with where the team is headed going into next season.
Saturday versus the Panthers
The game at The Rock on Saturday afternoon against the Panthers contained many of the elements that the Devils lacked during their horrible losing streak. The Devils scored goals, moved the puck well, controlled the neutral zone, crashed the net, and created plays out of the forecheck.
The team got off to a slow start, as it has done frequently this season, but obviously they gained momentum as the game went on. They were aggressive on the ice which I thought was lacking during long stretches of this abbreviated season. I think they need that edge in order to win close games against good teams, and I was hoping they would carry that aggressive edge to MSG to play the Rangers.
The concerns I had coming out of the Florida game were the fact that the Panthers had abundant open ice space in the 1st period which lead to a number of scoring opportunities. At that time, I thought if the Devils repeat that against the Rangers, they would be in trouble (we see how that played out). The other issue I had with the game on Saturday was the way the Devils handled the puck in their own end of the ice. More than a few times, they were sloppy with the puck in those areas, which as we fellow hockey fans know, leads to turnovers in our own end and a scoring chance for the opponent.
Overall, I was happy they got the win at home and seemed to break out of the scoring drought.
Sunday versus the Rangers
After a disastrous 1st period at MSG, which included the Devils taking too many penalties, and making a number of mistakes against a Rangers team that needed the win, I thought they settled down in the 2nd period.
However, I must mention the terrible job done by the referees in this game, I have friends who are Rangers fans calling me today saying that the referees made some terrible calls in the game! The penalty on D’Agostini for holding the stick was a terrible call, as he is falling in a dazed state after that vicious hit he took on the boards. The officiating of the game was totally lopsided and completely influenced the outcome of this game.
The Devils did not forecheck well, and they over passed or over rotated the puck. They needed to put more shots on goal against Lundquist and they did not do so. Their spacing on the ice was a mess for large stretches of this game. In one sequence though, in the 2nd period, they were spaced out better and created some solid scoring chance, but could not convert them.
Brodeur was screened on 2 goals, and the other goal, the first goal by Callahan went in off the skate of Brodeur and into the net. The Pyatt goal was the result of a bad turnover by the Devils defense, which I was concerned about in the Florida game the day before, the way they were sloppy handling the puck in their end.
One of the bright spots for the Devils came right after that goal in the 2nd period, where Zajac just missed a goal on a great chance. That rush started on a great pass by Zidlicky to create that scoring opportunity.
In the 3rd period, the other Callahan goal was the back breaker. It came again after a series of bad penalties called by the referee, but also was a direct result of very good passing by the Rangers. The Devils also over pursued that play to a large degree, and Brodeur was out of position to prevent that goal.
In the end, the Loktionov goal was nice, but too little too late for New Jersey, and the Devils will miss playoffs after that magical run last season. The Devils just never got the pace in this game, and they could not create odd man rushes which really limited their ability to score on Lundquist.
Looking ahead to next season
Now, the Devils and Lou Lamoriello have to make some important roster decisions in the summer off season. First, the Patrick Elias situation will be the topic we will all blog about, whether or not he gets an offer or tests the market remains to be seen. I can think of nothing worse than Elias in a Rangers or Flyers
uniform. I think he has played well enough to warrant playing his whole career for the Devils.
Next, we have the Clarkson and Zubrus situations that will be the other sub plots of the summer. All I know is I do not want to see Clarkson playing for Toronto. I hope both he and Zubrus will be back.
Finally, the goaltending situation, I think Brodeur still has something left in the tank. This season showed that he may need more time off to stay fresh. I believe the Devils need to cut ties with Hedburg and either acquire a goalie from outside the organization or look to promote one from within their system. Unfortunately, this is what we fellow Devils fans are writing about today, now that the playoff dreams are over.
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