Sunday, October 30, 2011

Devils end less than satisfactory road trip with a 1-3 record

After their 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh last Saturday, the Devils went out West for three games in LA, Phoenix and Dallas. While I figured the team would go 1-2, I did think the trip would be better than that after their dominant 3-0 win in LA Tuesday. I only saw the first period of that game but the Devils did look pretty good even before scoring, and of all people Danius Zubrus finally came alive with two goals in that game. Johan Hedberg rebounded from a mediocre performance in Pittsburgh with a shutout that night, and it looked as if the Devils would take a positive step forward after bad games against the Sharks and Penguins last weekend.

On Thursday, I was flipping back and forth between the World Series and Devils-Phoenix. Though I'm usually a bit of a weenie when it comes to staying up for Devils West Coast games on a weekday (especially since there's only a couple every season), a classic Game 6 of the World Series gave me enough incentive to stay up. And as things went on, I stayed with the baseball more as the Devils gave a performance worse than a 5-3 total would indicate. Though they were even at 2-2 till giving up a goal in the final minute of the second period to Ray Whitney, the Devils were horribly outshot by a margin of 35-21 in those two periods. Things didn't get much better in the third as the Yotes scored twice, and the Devils added only a useless tack-on goal by Nick Palmeri late.

Last night I had a Halloween party to go to, but hoped that the game would be on TV in the other room at least. No such luck, thanks to a freak October snowstorm that knocked out all the power in much of Morristown and a lot of other cities as well. My friend's 'party' turned out to be more or less a glorified gettogether with a few people since nobody who lived out of the city wanted to brave the conditions and come. I couldn't even check the score since my phone was almost out of power and I wasn't able to charge it before my power went out around 2 PM. I left around midnight and suddenly remembered to check the score on the radio, nothing terribly surprising there - another day, another struggle to score goals as Petr Sykora's first of his second go-around as a Devil was the Devils' only tally in a 3-1 loss. Apparently a bad bounce doomed us in the third period with a Vernon Fiddler shot going in off Mark Fayne's skate to break a 1-1 tie in the third.

Figures that the power came back on right after I got home, hopefully going home has the same effect for the Devils, who start a stretch of three home games (and one road tilt) in seven days next Wednesday when they return to the ice against the Leafs at the Rock, followed by a trip to Philly to face the Chris Pronger-less Flyers on Thursday, then home games against Winnipeg and Carolina Saturday and next Tuesday. In this day of parity, there are few so-called easy stretches anymore. I'm not saying the next four games should be one of those, but if you're a good team you come out with the majority of points in these games. With the Devils at 4-4-1 now and having only two regulation wins in nine games, getting at least six points in these games is critical since after that they have a home-and-home with the Caps that begins a brutal five-game trip against the Sabres, Bruins, Lightning and Panthers.

Lest I forget, while the Devils were on the road over this late week there were a few personnel changes of note. With the Devils hurting at center after the injuries to Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson, they claimed former Panthers center Ryan Carter off waivers and immediately inserted him into the lineup Thursday. Carter comes with the rep of being a fourth-line center and penalty killer, and coach Pete DeBoer certainly knows him a bit, having him on his team at the end of his Panther tenure last year. Carter replaced Rod Pelley in the lineup, but the Devils' biggest move to fill their center void came when they shifted Zach Parise to the middle, a position he hasn't played since his rookie season of 2005 (and things didn't go very well for him there at that time, until he got shifted to LW).

I don't want to say moving the captain is a panic move, but it certainly lends more credence to the cynics that say you can't have two star LW's on the same team, and that Parise and Kovy can't co-exist. Last year, then-coach John MacLean tried to shift Ilya Kovalchuk to RW and put him on Parise's line and that failed. Now, we're shifting Parise to C - a position he hasn't played successfully since college - to try to link him up with Kovy. Granted, there are extenuating circumstances but the fact you do have so much star power at one wing certainly takes away from your depth at other positions. We're not even as bad off at center than we are at right wing, where it says a lot when David Clarkson suddenly finds himself on the first line by default (and Clarkson has gotten off to a nice start this year, but still).

Things defensively have been in flux too, though DeBoer finally paired up fellow Swedes Henrik Tallinder and Adam Larsson (who might already be showing some fatigue from playing heavy minutes early in the season), he's left the slow-and-slower pair of Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov together as the third pair. I still think Volchenkov can be better used on a higher pairing, with a more mobile partner but apparently the coach doesn't see it that way. At least the Devils might be getting some good news in net soon, as Martin Brodeur is 'closer' to a return after missing the prior four games, whatever that means. Though Hedberg's been good for the most part, it's essential Brodeur get back soon before Hedberg starts to show his age and break down.

With the team at a crossroads, this next week becomes very interesting. If the Devils have a dissapointing week, they go on the road for five tough games either at or under .500, with the specter of last year's start still a prolonged losing streak away (and currently the Devils are 1-3-1 in their last five). However, a good week at least buys the team precious time to stay afloat while Brodeur gets healthy and they figure out just what they're going to do offensively. It'll be interesting to see which way this goes.

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