It’s Time To Take Notice
Hockey fans, the New Jersey Devils are for real. After sweeping this past weekend’s home and home vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils are now 3 points up on 2nd place Pittsburgh with a game in hand. It is also just as important to note that the Devils are now on a 5-game winning streak and playing their best hockey of the season to date.
Here are some of the things I picked up on in regards to the Devils overall play and some specific players who were instrumental this past weekend:
-A lot of Devis fans gave me, well..crap, for my insistance that having Adam Larsson in the press box to start the season would not negatively impact his game. Clearly, I wasn’t wrong in my assertion because Larsson is currently playing better than every other defensemen on the team (and yes, that includes Andy Greene). Since getting beat one-on-one a few times by the Islanders, Larsson has really stepped up his positional game. When the puck is in the Devils defensive zone, it certainly doesn’t stay there for very long. Larsson has been the best Devils defensemen at transitioning the team from defense to offense. His passes are crisp, hard, and extremely accurate. Most importantly, he was paired with Anton Volchenkov to be a shut down defensemen for the final 1:30 of the 3rd period in Sunday night’s contest against the Penguins. That shows Pete DeBoer and the coaching staff are taking notice and it’s about time the rest of the league does too. This kid is going to be a stud (if he isn’t one already).
-Both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg have been playing good hockey this season, but this past weekend we got to see them try and out-duel each other against the Penguins. According to the judges scorecards, it was a draw. Both goalies made key saves when it mattered, ironically gave up the same amount of goals (1 each) while down a man, and were able to send all their rebounds away from the on-rushing forwards of the Penguins. Having two goalies who can win you one game when it matters is a huge advantage to have, especially in a shortened, compact season. Just look at the Devils remaining schedule for the month of February. They have to play 3 games in 4 nights back to back weeks AND have another two back-to-back games scenarios. They need both goalies for this upcoming stretch of games in order to keep both of them fresh at season’s end and for the playoff run.
-David Clarkson is an animal and I’m sorry I ever doubted him. I’ve watched Clarkson since his rookie campaign where he couldn’t stay on his feet longer than I could hold my breathe. I thought he’d never amount to the player that he is today because his skating was just so raw. Kudos to him for spending the time and effort into improving his skating abilities and body control. Great stuff.
-The Devils power play has scored 7 times in 22 opportunities during this 5-game winning streak. That means their PP is clicking at a 31.8% rate. I said in my pre-season predictions blog that if the Devils want to be successful, they would need their PP clicking at about 20%. 20<31.8 and they are currently winning games by more than 1 goal. But is there a reasoning to their sudden success? There are two actually:
- The Devils first unit finally understands the system Shaw put in place for them. They are utilizing their down low forwards when the oppositions penalty killers try to crouch Kovy and the other Devils point men. This leaves guys like David Clarkson more room to work with.
- Bobby Butler. This kid has come in and provided a big offensive boost to the 4th line and the 2nd power play unit. Since his insertion into the lineup, the Devils have won 5 straight and scored a PP goal in each of those game. Now, teams are forced to worry about not only 1 Devils unit plus Kovy, but now 2 Devils units plus Kovy. Thats a dangerous thing to think about.
Their current PP is a big reason why they are so hot right now.
-I swear when Stephen Gionta hit the ice and slid neck/head first into the boards, I almost threw up. Gionta has provided the Devils with sparks of energy. He is a staple on the penalty kill. His speed on the 3rd line and chemistry with line mates Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter are irreplaceable. This time last year, would anybody think that Gionta was irreplaceable? I sure as hell didn’t. But I do now and you all should too.
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