Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Devils discover goalscoring on Columbus Day



Yesterday afternoon, the Devils got off the schneid - both in scoring goals and winning, beating the Hurricanes 4-2 to even up their record and provide their first goals of the season. New captain Zach Parise scored twice - his first goals in eleven and a half months, while Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists as both star left wingers were named first and second star, respectively. Mark Fayne also scored a second-period goal, a good sign as the Devils look to increase their production from the blueline this year.

While I didn't see any of this game live, I was able to listen on the radio and at least get a good feel for what went on. Clearly the Devils played much better than in the season opener on Saturday, though it must be said they were also clearly playing a team that at best is a borderline playoff contender while the Flyers might well win the division in a walk with what I've seen of them the first two games. It was kinda depressing hearing Matt Loughlin and Sherry Ross opine how the game was an important one because the Devils and Carolina were both going to be in the mix for the last playoff spot. It's been a while since just making the playoffs was our celing of expectations.

Aside from the goal-scoring, a bright spot continues to be teen sensation Adam Larsson, who led all Devils in icetime with over twenty-four minutes and led all defensemen in icetime on Opening Night as well. He certainly hasn't looked out of place, making only one or two glaring mistakes perhaps but also several nice plays, including a ridiculously athletic keep of a puck that looked like it was headed out of the zone on one of our power plays yesterday - going full-speed and stretching out to tap the puck before it got out of the zone, before he came to a halt outside the zone and resumed the play with the puck waiting for him inside the blueline. Larsson even turned his head for good measure while he was doing all that, to make sure no Canes were around him on the five-on-three.

Another bright spot is the penalty kill, which has gone 13-13 this year (although with a slight asterisk since the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds scored just after a penalty expired). So far the Devils have rotated star forwards Parise and Patrik Elias with young centers Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique, as well as role players Danius Zubrus and Brad Mills. It's truly been penalty-killing by committee so far. Unfortunately, the power play has been just as unsuccessful as the PK has been successful, their only goal so far came on a Parise empty-netter late Monday.

For the second straight year, attendance was ridiculously low for the quasi-holiday, as the Devils barely cracked 12000 fans in the seats. That said, I've turned around in my opinion about having what now looks like an annual Columbus afternoon game. While not every school's off, at least some do take off and having another afternoon tilt for the kids isn't a bad thing. Most of the weekend afternoon games wind up being more expensive, both because demand's much higher across the board and because of the new tiered pricing system. Might as well throw families a bone and have them get one cheap game a year, and early enough in the season where the weather's good. Even if the season ticket holder is going to be largely inconvenienced because they don't want to use a day off to go to one of forty-one home games. Besides, it's not as if the second game of the year wasn't usually an attendance pit even before we started having it in the middle of Columbus Day.

I will be back at the arena Thursday as the Devils close out their three-game homestand with a tough match against the Kings. While beating still-winless Carolina was nice and a neccesity, I won't truly come off the ledge until we beat some playoff teams and at least pile up a few wins early. Ironically, it was in LA where Parise's season came to an end for all intents and purposes, and Kovalchuk heard some of his loudest boos from fans who felt he spurned them (and former Lou Lamoriello protege Dean Lombardi) during the great FA summer of 2010. Fortunately this game should be just about hockey, and provide a good barometer early in the season to see where we are.

Perhaps coach Pete DeBoer was right about the team having first-game nerves at home, citing a string of teams around the league (Carolina included) that lost big in their home opener, and the fact the Flyers had played already was a disadvantage as well. He's certainly not resting on his laurels, since it looks like we may see forwards Rod Pelley and Cam Janssen in for Henrique and Eric Boulton. So far DeBoer's been keeping everyone involved, giving all the defensemen fifteen plus minutes and playing Johan Hedberg in the second game of the season after Hedberg didn't get a start till his eighth game last year.

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