Through SB Nation, In Lou We Trust was given a press credential to take in this weekend's proceedings, so I headed out to Yankee Stadium for practice day to get a look at the team and the venue. Here are some of the takeaways from the day:
Marty Gets the Nod
It appears the decision in net has been made and that Martin Brodeur will be getting the start for the Devils tomorrow. Some people will point to Schneider's superior play over the course of this season as a reason he should have gotten the nod, but once Pete DeBoer admitted earlier in the week that sentimentality was going ot be part of the decision making process, I think it was pretty clear Marty would start.
In his post-practice comments, DeBoer told reporters it was an easy decision to make, regarding who should start tomorrow's game. He called it the "right thing to do" based on Brodeur's legacy and everything he has done for the organization over the past two decades. He also said Cory Schneider was completely willing to step aside for Brodeur, given everything he means to the New Jersey Devils and how special of an opportunity this is. DeBoer said Schneider showed "amazing professionalism, and genuine" when he was approached for this decision.
When DeBoer was asked about the large disparity in their stats for this season (the .928 to .905 save percentage gap, specifically), he responded that he is "not a big statistics guy" and that both guys were playing very well for the Devils this season. At this point, it's hard to argue that their level of play is really even close, so the answer is a little disappointing, if not particularly surprising. Though I'll admit it's hard to expect Pete DeBoer to go ahead and say Marty is playing mediocre hockey, especially when he just selected him to start tomorrow. But it feels like the Devils are lying to themselves a little bit at this point with regard to the situation in net.
From a purely hockey standpoint, I believe Schneider should be getting the vast majority of non back-to-back starts at this point, but for this one game, I'm willing to make an exception. Marty is a living legend, and while there is a degree of folly of starting him in an important game despite his lower level of play, it does just kind of feel like he should be the one who gets the opportunity tomorrow. Hopefully he can play up to the challenge and lead the Devils to an crucial victory in a tight playoff race.
Josefson's Big Chance
Since Dainius Zubrus was moved off the Devils' top line to join the now-healthy Patrik Elias and Damian Brunner, the Devils have been looking for a suitable replacement on the left wing for Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr. First, it was Reid Boucher who got an opportunity to skate alongside the top forwards. Then he was sent down, and Joe Whitney was called up given a shot, but he didn't impress, so now the Devils will try another option on the wing.
That option will be the often-maligned-of-late first-round pick, Jacob Josefson. Josefson has seen only 16 games of action on the season and has just a single point to show for it (though he has been saddled with Cam Janssen for much of that time). He now has a huge opportunity to break out playing alongside two of the Devils' best forwards. I actually like this move and am curious to see how Josefson performs with some talented linemates.
When asked in the locker room after the game about playing on the wing versus his more typical position of center, Josefson said he doesn't really mind the change and has played wing often enough in the past. He was also questioned about the possible pressure jumping into a top line role, and he responded that after sitting for so long, he is just excited to have an opportunity to get back in the lineup.
Short Stay for Whitney
Joe Whitney's chance at the NHL was a short-lived one, at least this time around, as he was sent back to Albany by the team this morning. He made little impact in his opportunity on the top line Friday night, though he did only have about 8 minutes to do so (part of which was actually spent on the third line). You have to feel a little bad for the guy, given how long it took him to get up and how quickly his chance ended, but such is life in the NHL, especially when a team is battling for its playoff life.
Exploring this venue and seeing all the excitement that everyone has being around this event, it's easy to see why these games have been so popular and why the NHL has expanded the whole outdoor game thing. It's just a really cool experience to be a part of. The players all seem to have fun with it too. The Devils practice was a full one, but everyone seemed to be loose and having a good time with it. Pete DeBoer mentioned that they are doing their best to balance the fun side of the event and the task at hand, which is a big game with big playoff implications against a hated rival. DeBoer said everyone was told to enjoy the day and have fun with their families and friends, but once everyone got to the hotel tonight, it would be all business through the game tomorrow.
- It'll be interesting to see if Andrei Loktionov ever moves off of his desire to not play anything but center. There is clearly an open opportunity in the lineup right now at LW that he is missing by not switching positions. I think there's a pretty good argument to be made that he'd be more effective than Stephen Gionta in that 4th line center role, but we all know that is a bridge we likely won't be crossing this season. It's starting to look like he'll need to be a wing if he wants playing time.
- Jaromir Jagr went out to look at the ice before practice wearing only flip flops. Keep in mind that it was in the mid to upper 20's and windy outside. He came out for the actual practice much more appropriately dressed, however, neck warmer and all.
- Jagr also expressed some fears to the press about getting hurt during the game due to tightness caused by the cold weather. He got hurt in his previous experience in an outdoor game when he was in the Winter Classic with the Flyers two years ago when he aggravated a calf injury early in the game.
Michael Ryder is now a veteran of outdoor NHL hockey as he is playing in the third outdoor game of his career. He played in a Heritage Classic way back in 2003 for the Montreal Canadiens and also in the 2010 Winter Classic with the Bruins. The latter was actually played at Fenway Park, so after tomorrow, Ryder will have played a hockey game in both the Yankees' and the Red Sox' home stadiums.
- The players seem to like the Devils' Christmas tree jerseys. I have to say I am a fan as well. Even just the practice getup they were wearing with the red helmets looked pretty good. Cory Schneider said they would be fun to wear once in a while, whereas Adam Henrique was more outright in his praise, saying he loves the red and green look.
- The Devils did a fair bit of shootout work at the end of their practice today, so hopefully they look somewhat capable if tomorrow's game gets that far. Josefson had the highlight of the group when he executed a what-I-think-was-on-purpose fake deke and allowed a puck to slide through Marty's legs. Whether it was intentional or not, it earned a nice roar from his teammates at center ice.
- Schneider had a camera on his helmet during practice. When asked afterward, he said he didn't know before hand he was doing it and actually didn't know whose camera it was. Probably the NHL Network (Hopefully)?
- TG asked Zajac why he was so bundled up, despite being from Winnipeg, and his response was "I'm the smartest one."
- The players all felt the ice was pretty good during their practice, so it appears that shouldn't be too much of an issue tomorrow, as long as it doesn't start to chip too much with the cold weather.
- Expected lines for tomorrow:
- A bunch of other photos from the day:
Outside the stadium at 161st and River pic.twitter.com/kLaiYk4LXt— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Prepping the ice for Devils practice pic.twitter.com/Q99nVlhw5v— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Zajac firing shots on Brodeur pic.twitter.com/NRVT4YOVFx— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Devils doing some 5v5 practice pic.twitter.com/fgUAwS0SP2— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Stevens testing out the ice and corraling pucks at practice pic.twitter.com/szRDccB8lk— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Josefson has been on a line with Jagr and Zajac. Maybe a big chance for him. pic.twitter.com/YsMWUWFJAp— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Schneider rocking the camera on the helmet pic.twitter.com/eovnAZ1cg7— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Jagr talking with NHL Network after coming off the ice pic.twitter.com/WOC9G9GO1P— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Merchandise ready to go for tomorrow pic.twitter.com/kuVNYSFVHV— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Hard to see in the picture, but there's a little bit of a flurry coming down on the family skate now pic.twitter.com/4jmPID3m3l— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
Devils' lockers in Yankee Stadium pic.twitter.com/MhE5RTLZYy— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) January 25, 2014
It was a good day out at Yankee Stadium and it should be a good time tomorrow. For anyone traveling to the game, bundle up, because it's gonna be a cold one. If you have any questions about stuff, ask below and I'll see if I can answer it later on. Otherwise, you can go ahead and talk about tomorrow's game. Thanks for reading and Go Devils.