Friday, January 1, 2010

Madden, Blackhawks give Devils a Windy City spanking


I'm not even going to attempt to recap this game, why bother. I didn't see most of it as I was at a New Year's Eve party with friends and would rather burn the tape than see lowlights of the Hawks' convincing 5-1 win over the Devils last night. While I have said (and been wrong) before this season that I pointed to certain nights on the schedule and figured on a loss last night I was proven correct, unfortunately. It's almost too much to ask the team to play a thousand miles away against a team that could well be the favorites out West less than twenty-four hours after an emotional, tight home win over the rival Penguins. Especially on a fourth game in six nights.

Heck, even in the best of circumstances it'd be tough to play this team, they look to have just about everything - offense, defense, special teams - except maybe goaltending in the clutch. Cristobal Huet is their only playoff question mark but has certainly been up to the challenge most of this season now that he's the unquestioned number one after the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin. Not to mention Chicago had a little extra motivation in the form of ex-Devil John Madden, who wanted badly to show up an organization that thought he was finished and to also gain bragging rights over good buddy Martin Brodeur.

Even without last night's goal - which basically was stat padding as the Hawks were already up 4-0 late in the third when Madden beat Brodeur with a wrist shot through traffic and gained his bragging rights - Madden's already proven he has more left in the tank. Granted, his numbers aren't great (8 G, 6 A and a -1 in 40 games) but he's never been about that really. In his prime he'd put up the odd 20-goal season but has lasted this long because of defense, faceoff wins and tenacity.

And given he only signed a one-year contract with the Blackhawks anyway, money wasn't a factor in Lou Lamoriello's decision to let him walk since the Devils are comfortably under the salary cap (for once). Expecting Rod Pelley to fill his shoes was like penciling in Pierre Dagenais to replace Alexander Mogilny. Oh well, even Lou can't get them all right - and he acknowledged the need for a replacement with Rob Niedermayer, who's been surprisingly effective to this point, even winning a majority of his faceoffs which was supposed to be his major drawback.

Granted, things have mostly been peaches and cream for the Devils this season but two players I'm not happy with right now are Travis Zajac and Johnny Oduya. Zajac's numbers still look good - 29 points and a +14 in 39 games but lately he and Oduya have both regressed to what they were two years ago. Zajac's only managed a meager four assists with a -1 in his last eleven games. Though linemate Zach Parise's goal drought was more talked about, Zajac's point production is more of a concern. We're going to need him to get going one of these days, especially since he's our only offensive center now that Patrik Elias has been moved off the pivot (partly due to a scary bad faceoff percentage).

However, Oduya's the bigger concern as far as production since he's really struggled all season before and after his injury. Offensively he has a pathetic one point (a goal) in 24 games, despite healthy icetime in almost all of them. Although he managed a +2 against the Pens even with a hideous turnover that led to a great Evgeni Malkin chance shorthanded he still hasn't looked right this year and last night was a -3. Maybe I was right after all about Oduya needing Paul Martin to succeed, he certainly hasn't played all that well with anyone else. Too bad Martin's still out almost a month with his arm issues.

Oduya wasn't the only one to struggle last night, as Jacques Lemaire continued his matching lines strategy with no success in the Windy City as Jay Pandolfo and Dean McAmmond were both -3's last night. This, despite Pando only getting 12:49 of icetime. He even took a penalty in the game which is about as much of a rarity as the full moon last night on New Year's Eve. Granted Pando had a nice game last night against the Penguins, but this cannot go on. Not if we're going to put three 33+ year olds on the checking line constantly. And why take McAmmond out of an offensive role when he was actually putting up points? Might as well ride the hot stick as long as you can.

Not much in particular incensed me last night, especially since I figured on a loss and probably a bad one anyway - but having Andrew Peters in lineup, with only a one-game benching for his idiocy against Eric Boulton and the Thrashers did make me roll my eyes. Amazingly Peters played almost ten minutes and wasn't a - in the game...but god, we have to have another fighter in the organization, right? Or be able to get one without giving up much at least. Forget Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond, whose sole purpose seems to be coming up with convenient, mysterious injuries and going on IR right when we need roster space, I wouldn't even mind playing Matt Corrente at forward for a game here and there at this point, he can fight too and wasn't an embarassment the one game he played forward. Plus he'd be handy to have around in case of another inconvenient injury on defense.

At least the Devils did get good news on the injury front for a change. While David Clarkson did re-injure his leg, it wasn't a fracture. More of a bruise and he's being held out of the Chicago-Minnesota trip as a precaution. Now that sounds more like the Devils I know, if it was another organization I root for (hint: a baseball team in NY that isn't the Yankees) he'd be put right back in the lineup and play until he really reinjured it, then he'd get misdiagnosed on top of it.

With another game tomorrow night in Minnesota, for a normal team you'd have to wonder if Yann Danis would get the start. But since it's the Devils, we'll likely see Brodeur again. By most accounts the five goals given up last night weren't really on him. It would be nice to be able to trust your backup goalie to play one lousy game when we have five in eight nights though - or seven in eleven. I suspect this won't be the last time I go down this road either before the playoffs. Sure, Brodeur's playing at a Vezina level now, but what about March and April?

I am curious what kind of reception Lemaire gets, while the Wild got pillored for being a non-exciting team, they did enjoy a certain amount of success including their terrific playoff run in 2003 and a division title as recently as two years ago. Plus Lemaire didn't really have a fair chance to win in Minnesota with the perrenial lack of talent there, especially since their only star (Marian Gaborik) spent more time in the press box than on the ice the last few years. Really, playing the trap was the only way the Wild were going to keep their heads above water. This year might bear that out as they're sitting in eleventh place in the West as of this morning with their new up-tempo style.

During this afternoon's Winter Classic between the Bruins and Flyers at Fenway, the US Olympic team will be announced. Zach Parise's a lock and Jamie Langenbrunner also a near-certainty but it'll be interesting to see if anyone else goes. Has Andy Greene gotten enough publicity to get an invite? Will Paul Martin still be on the roster in spite of his injury questions?

Maybe I'm in the minority among fans but I don't mind seeing my players go to the Olympics. First off it's an honor and gives them (especially the younger guys) free experience in important games. Plus I'm not one of those that thinks oh, just stay home and avoid injury. That's Indianapolis Colts thinking. Everyone else's players have the same injury risk anyway, why should we be special and compel guys to sit home?

Granted it's more wear and tear for whose who go and especially if they have a deep tournament run, but if the Devils keep going as well as they have Lemaire can make up for that down the stretch by scaling back minutes before the playoffs if he wants - though I'm not sure if the organization believes in that, especially with the general philosophy in the past of going all out for every last point in the regular season. Plus I'm not too keen about guys sitting out for three weeks and then jumping right back into it either, especially in the Devils' case since they have a big road trip coming out of the break, going to San Jose, Calgary and Edmonton.

Anyway, here are the three stars last night though I'm pretty much going by a statsheet here:

BoNY Three Stars:
  1. Johnathan Toews (goal, assist, +1)
  2. Cristobal Huet (26/27 saves)
  3. John Madden (goal, 14:33 TOI)

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