Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Devil did it again

The Devil did it again. Well, if you're a puck fan, then you are well aware that I'm not talking about anything to do with Hell but about a successful NHL franchise which always seems to do the usual: Just win.

There are no style points for Kool Aid supplier Lou Lamoriello's team which now does most of their winning in Newark at the brand new Prudential Center instead of that dump now known as The Izod Center. Good thing they got out of the Swamp finally because it would've been the butt of more jokes. Speaking of which, why did a clown banner hang from above with all their banners?!?!?!?!?! My good Buffalo Sabre pal Brian Sanborn once created a name Legend of the Clown Banner (LOTCB) on the Devil fan message board njdevs.com. Of course, it was all in good fun.

In any event, I'm fairly certain Devil worshippers are glad that their team now plays in a real arena with much easier access to and from. I haven't gotten out there yet but definitely plan to check it out at some point.

How can a team which always seems to lose key pieces from the previous three championship teams continue to win consistently and be near the top of the East? It's very easy to say that the No.1 reason has everything to do with certain Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur. If you listen to Chico Resch, even the most routine saves are totalllly amaaazzing!!!!!

Oh. Marty's brilliant. Every year, No.30 proves that he's still got it much to my and other rival fans' dismay. Hey. I got to be honest there. Well, at least the Devs haven't solved Henrik Lundqvist yet in the first five regular season match-ups. Will they find a way to beat Rick DiPietro and the resurgent Isles Saturday afternoon at The Rock? It's got to happen some time because there's no way they're losing out against both locals. That's crazy.

So, how does this team do it? Well, for starters, first-year task master Brent Sutter has done an outstanding job whipping his players into shape. You can see why he was so successful when running Team Canada at the WJC. Sure. He had great talent to work with but still, like other Sutters, he doesn't put up with any bull.

I loved how he made his team stay after a brutal third period in allowing three unanswered to the Canadiens before the break. Now that's what I call old school. They've responded fairly well since.

Zach Parise is the club's leading scorer and really the heart of the offense. So much of it revolves around what the former North Dakota product can do just from superb skating and superior work habits. If you saw his 24th goal which tied the score in an eventual 3-1 home win over San Jose, then you know how hard he works. Even if you dislike the Devs, it's pretty easy to appreciate a player like as my buddy Steve Lepore calls him along with 2Man's very own Patricia Greuter, "The Zach Attack."

Where's Zach Morris anyway these days?!?!?!?!?! Remember that recent YouTube of Mr. Belding at a rock concert last year? I can't recall which old group it was but they called him up to perform with them. Kinda comical. Seattle I think.

Aside from the usual great performances by Marty and Zach, the Devs have gotten remarkable contributions from checkers turned loose John Madden and Jay Pandolfo. The dynamic PK duo have really made a difference offensively because under Sutter, they're looking to score rather than just focusing on shutting down top lines.

I really feel that how they perform along with meat and potatoes rookie grinder David Clarkson will determine their Spring aspirations.

After a first half struggle, sophomore Travis Zajac has come around and is hitting the back of the net with regularity. It was essential for the kid from Manitoba to get it going. Ditto Patrik Elias, who went through a tough first half but as usual has responded. He's always been a streaky scorer who picks it up down the stretch. Never a bad thing.

What is probably the most surprising aspect about the team who currently leads the Pens by two points for the Atlantic and has a share of the conference lead with Ottawa and Montreal is that top sniper Brian Gionta has only 15 goals. If the Rochester Rocket as Resch refers to him gets untracked, they'll be that much better.

You also can't measure the importance of new team captain Jamie Langenbrunner. I've always admired his game and wanted the Rangers to get him. Unfortunately, the Devs got the ex-Star who now has helped two teams win Stanley Cups. He's just such a smart versatile player who can be used offensively or defensively. He can play any situation and be a threat. If Parise's the heart of the offense, then Langenbrunner is the Krazy Glue which keeps it together.

The growing question is can a team which doesn't score a whole lot and still plays close to the vest relying on their netminder go far in the postseason? I'm not sure. You have to give Paul Martin a lot of kudos as he's finally budded into the kind of two-way defensive option the Minnesota product was capable of.

It's still mind boggling to see the transformation which has taken place with D partner Johnny Oduya. A guy who once looked like the odd man out is now logging vital minutes and contributing in both ends tied with Martin for the team lead for plus/minus (+19).

One still ponders if a blueline that relies on Oduya and Karel Rachunek can make an impact and win more than a round? Colin White is their most physical defenseman and will be very important to how they fare.

So, is this a balanced team? Not really offensively but what allows the Devils to continue winning is that their system allows everyone to contribute. It could be a Sergei Brylin or even an Arron Asham who makes the difference between winning and losing.

Is this team good enough to take the East? I still say no. They could probably use another offensive forward and one punishing defenseman to replace the awful Vitaly Vishnevski. However, outside of Ottawa who has goalie issues and Montreal who now looks like the most balanced team in the conference, you have to put the Devs in there with the third best chance to win the required 12 games to reach the Cup Final.

If only they didn't have the worst radio team in league history. Matt Loughlin is a nice guy who fits better as a studio host but good god. Is he awful. And Sherry Ross is misplaced as the color analyst.

How can those two be their radio team? Some things are just better off left being unsaid.

If you aren't a Devil fan, welcome to eternal Hell.

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