It has been a while since my previous write up for the boys in red and black, so there is much to cover!
After tonight's grueling victory in Toronto over the Leafs in Overtime, the New Jersey Devils are on a four-game win streak, and are 35-20-4. Folks, that is a very impressive record for where this team was projected to end up. At this point last season, after 59 games the Devils had 56 points. One seasons difference has the Devils 17 points improved from last season already! This has the Devils at the 2nd best record in the East, 7 points back of 1st place, and the Atlantic Division leading cross-river rivals the New York Rangers. The Rangers have played excellent of late as well, not to the exception of maybe the Ducks, no team has been hotter than New Jersey since the break.
I will cover three things in this blog; the Devils upcoming 3 game set in 4 days time, player analysis, and the trade deadline that is looming oh so near!
After the game in Toronto, the Devils will have the opportunity to rest up a bit, because starting Friday night at The Rock, these red-hot Devils have 3 games in 96 hours time. This will arguably be the make or break 3 game stretch that will show if New Jersey can catch the Blueshirts.
First up on Friday night in the friendly confines of the Prudential Center, the Devils will host the reigning Western Conference champions, the Vancouver Canucks (38-18-6). The 'Nucks are on fire as well lately, particularly as everyone's guess that would include the Sedin twins, who are racking up points left and right as usual. Even after a 3-1 loss Tuesday night in Nashville, the Canucks are 6-2-2 in their previous 10 games. They also happen to have a 17 point lead in the Northwest Division, that is beyond impressive. I feel that the Devils can show what they're made of against the elite in the West, and I believe that they will. Fresh legs and a Newark crowd full of enthusiasm will surely be helpful. I see the Devils winning this one 3-2 in a Shootout. It's just one of those games that you can't see not going to overtime.
The second game is also home at The Rock on Sunday afternoon at 1 against the fire-selling Tampa Bay Lightning (27-26-6). New Jersey has Tampa's number this season, and I look for that success to continue over a team who has traded away Pavel Kubina, Steve Downie and Dominic Moore. Not to mention a man some of you may know, Vinny Lecavalier out with a broken hand. This game is a must-win, unaffordable to lose game for New Jersey. I see a result in favor of the Devils, 4-1 in a fairly easy contest in a game where they can rough the Bolts up early and demoralize them from the beginning. They are not to be taking lightly, though, as they cooled off the Ducks Tuesday night in Tampa 3-2.
The third game in this stretch is without a doubt the most important of the season. There is a possibility, not a large one, but a possibility nonetheless that the Devils could be 4 points out of 1st place in the Atlantic come Monday night. The Devils take their game across the Hudson once again to visit Madison Square Garden and the New York Rangers (38-15-5). The Devils need to handle their two games previous to this one, to not only keep pace with the Blueshirts, but to hopefully close in some more. In the last game against the Rangers, there was a lot of controversy in the finish where the Rangers had a last-minute game-tying goal overturned as the ref's called goaltender interference on New York. That game launched the Devils full-speed aimed at the Rangers in the standings. Tuesday night at the Igloo in Steel City, the Penguins shut the Rangers out 2-0 in a hard-fought contest as they always are. Since the last game against New Jersey, New York has gone 5-2, quite impressive I must say, along with New Jersey's 4-1-1 since that night as well. This game will be highly talked of, it's on National Television on NBC Sports, between the two best teams in the entire Eastern Conference and it will be one hell of a fight I promise that!
Onto player performance as of late!
The three who stand out most to me in the past month or so, are most certainly Ilya Kovalchuk who with 1.4 points per game in the last 23 games, can hit the 100-mark. In addition to number 17, is the all-time everything Goaltender, Martin Brodeur. Since the all-star break alone, Marty has a GAA of under 2! He is simply lights-out as of late. The third player who has stood out most to me in the past few weeks is the newly-acquired Alexei Ponikarovsky. Since being acquired by the Devils, Pony has tallied 4 goals and 6 assists in 12 games. All I heard from people before this man stepped foot on the ice as a Devil was how lazy he got in Carolina. Well I'm pretty sure that talk has been put to bed as this guy has stepped up big time for us in the left-wing slot.
Now to the trade deadline and the rumors that come with it, as well as my hopefuls!
Everyone who follows this team was aware of the mess surrounding the rumors of Minnesota working with Lou on a deal to send D Marek Zidlicky to New Jersey for unnamed returns, and that Marek apparently waived his no-trade clause to come to Newark. Much news tends to never get out with whatever it is Lou is doing, and I like it that way. The guy knows what he is doing, he always has and he has never failed us. Could we be in store for a deadline splash? Could we see absolutely nothing from the Devils FO? I see a middle ground. We do have the capability of adding a player with a salary in the ballpark of $3-4 million if their contract carries through next season and perhaps beyond. Chances are, Lou will work out a deal to bring in a puck moving Defensemen to help our blue-line stability with the not-so-great work of Kurtis Foster in his own end. Zidlicky definitely seems like a possibility, but his contract carries through 2013 at the weight of $4 million per season, which is pretty steep for what he would actually bring to the table. The certain player I want in a personal manner is the return of Johnny Oduya. In playoff series we could really use the guy, he's accountable, he's reliable and that is what we need! If no moves are made, and once this team is back to being 100% healthy, the lines should look something like this..
Parise - Henrique - Kovalchuk
Sykora - Elias - Clarkson
Poni - Zajac - Bernier
Boulton - Zubrus - Palmieri
Volchenkov - Larsson
Greene - Salvador
Fayne - Foster
Brodeur / Hedberg
Larsson is back to skating, Zajac's return shouldn't be all that far off either. However, with Tallinder on IR with his return in serious question, that is the main sign of the Devils making some kind of move to fill that void. As a fan, I do not want to see Foster on the ice in a non-powerplay situation come playoff time.
I'll have another write up sometime next week after these games are done and over and likely on trade deadline day!
Thanks for reading everyone, and as always, Go Devils!