In recent seasons, the month of November has been very kind to the New Jersey Devils. November 2009 proved to be no different. The New Jersey Devils finished the month with a 9-2-1 record. 9-2-1. Let that sink in for a moment. 19 points in 12 games and finishing only a point behind Pittsburgh with 3 games in hand is nothing to sneeze at. The Devils vastly improved their home record by going 6-0-0 at the Rock, compared with 1-4-0 last month. The road winning streak continued into the middle of the month, before a three game winless road trip, leaving the road record at only 3-2-1. I can't complain, as I felt only 14 points would have been expected back at the beginning of November.
To think, all of this has been done with more Devils seemingly getting injured. Jay Pandolfo, Paul Martin, and Johnny Oduya missed the entire month. During November, the list grew to include Rob Niedermayer, Dainius Zubrus, and most recently David Clarkson. The only Devil to really come back from injury was Patrik Elias, who ended the month showing off why he's still to be seen as an elite winger. Yet, the Devils kept on rolling to win games. It didn't matter if they gave up the first or second goal on most nights, they found a way to defeat (and in two cases, blow out) their opponent. Why? The Devils' top players are playing at a high level, the various called up players and those lower on the depth chart have taken the opportunities available to show off what they can do, and Jacques Lemaire and the coaching staff have done an excellent job of holding the team together.
We can only imagine how good this team will be at full health. A frightening prospect for the rest of the league because November proved that they are a very good team right now.
The Month in Review
The month of November couldn't have started any better for the Devils. Not that every game favored the Devils, but winning the month's first 6 games (an 8 game winning streak overall) was definitely a sign of a team doing something right. The Devils opened up the month by finally getting their then-second win at the Rock in a 3-2 defeat of the Washington Capitals. In every one of these wins, it seemed the Devils got it done in some different way. The Devils tried to crack Martin Biron; but it was long shots from Brian Rolston and Cory Murphy which got past him en route to a 2-1 win. The next night the Devils power play uncharacteristically carried the team to victory with 3 goals to defeat Ottawa 3-2. Against Anaheim, the Devils scored first and then responded to the equalizer with a two-goal lead to win 3-1 and take the home record to 4-4. The Devils looked poor to start in Pittsburgh, but then responded with 4 unanswered goals to win 4-1. The Devils allowed the first two goals against the Washington Capitals on their first two shots, and then dismantled them at the Rock to win 5-2. The Devils were hot and now the home record was finally above .500.
Things were great. Even when it looked bad, you knew that the Devils could pull out a win. Down by 1? Down by 2? Tie game? Someone or some unit will step up to shift momentum back to the Devils and then finish the necessary plays to take the game. Could the Devils make NHL history with 10 straight road wins? Could they extend their winning streak to 9 games or more?
In a word, no. In Philadelphia, the start of a three game road trip, the Flyers had all the answers to New Jersey's plans and generally outplayed them. The final score of 3-2 was close, but the action on the ice showed otherwise. The streaks were over, how would the Devils respond afterward? Not so well. They played an even game in Nashville, but fell to the Predators in their first shootout loss this season, 3-2. In Dallas, the Stars went up 3-1 after the first, Martin Brodeur replaced Yann Danis, and the Devils were able to claw back to 3-3 in the third period. It looked like the same magic seen earlier in the month was back. The Devils would come back from 2 down to win, a concept not at all foreign to the Devils or their fans. Unfortunately, the Stars had other ideas and the Devils gave up their momentum quickly to allow two third period goals. The Devils lost 5-3 to Dallas and were suddenly mired in a 3 game winless streak. Could it be, that after so many wins, the Devils were slumping? Did they come back to reality?
Thankfully, the Devils got it together with, what else, a close win over Ottawa. The Devils' all-time leading scorer tipped the puck off of Andy Greene's shot for the go-ahead goal, leading to a frustrated Senators team by the game's end. The Devils won 3-1 and the slump - short as it was - was snapped. Not that the Devils necessarily slept on it. In Boston, the Devils, somehow, managed to keep the score really close despite being dominated in terms of puck possession and scoring chances by the Bruins. Oh, wait, I know why - Martin Brodeur was massive (and set a new NHL mark for career minutes played). The Devils eventually prevailed in the shootout, winning 2-1. In the last game of the month, on the very next day, the Devils snowballed their way to a huge 6-1 win over the New York Islanders - led by the production of Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias. And so here we stand. A 3 game winning streak in response to a 3 game winless streak in the prior week.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough how the Devils succeeded in spite of losing players to injuries. Players like Dean McAmmond, Mark Fraser, and Tim Sestito have shown to be more than just "filler" players on a roster in the absence of regular Devils. All three can definitely play decent minutes at the NHL level. Young call ups like Tyler Eckford, Matthew Corrente, and most-recently Vladimir Zharkov got a taste of NHL hockey and showed promise in the limited minutes they got.
Of course, I cannot discount the return of Devils legend Patrik Elias. Finally returning from injury, he needed a few games to get back into his groove. It took him 4 games before getting any points and when he did, it was 2 assists against Philadelphia. By the end of the month, New Jersey fans are being delighted by seeing the old Patrik back. Elias now has 3 goals and 5 assists since opening his points account on November 16, most notably blowing up against the Islanders on November 28 for 2 goals and 2 assists. Glad to have you back and healthy, Patrik!
Yet, it was the top players on the team who led the way throughout the month. Where would the Devils be without the fine play of their top forwards, their top 4 defensemen, and Martin Brodeur? A place we really don't want to think about (namely, right next to the Rangers in the standings). When the team has gone 9-2-1 in a single month, lots of players look deserving for player of the month. Or at least some definite praise. Believe it or not, I think Martin Brodeur had a Devil of the Month worthy November. He went 8-2-1, gave up 18 goals in 11 games, and yielded a mind-boggling 93.9% save percentage. The NHL even named him the Second Star of the Week for giving up a mere 3 goals in the last 3 games. Yet, I think two Devils have impressed me more than that in the last month:
Devil of the Month Honorable Mention:
|November 2009 - Andy Greene
Prior to the season, I set my expectations low for Andy Greene. I figured he was going to have to fight for his spot on the team's #6 defenseman. In fact, he did, as Cory Murphy eventually started in his place. But since Murphy didn't do so well to start, Lemaire gave Greene a shot and rarely has he looked back. What's most impressive is that since the injuries to Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya, Jacques Lemaire has put his trust into Greene.
Greene's been productive while not slowing down with the ridiculous workload he's been getting. Seriously, unless I can't average time on ice, he's averaged 26 minutes a game this month. He's actually leading the blueline in Martin's absence. To think, he didn't even start the season on the team's top 6! Per the even strength numbers at Behind the Net, it's not all good with Greene - the team's shots against per 60 do rise from 24.7 to 29.5 when Greene gets on the ice. On the other hand, the goals against per 60 drop from 1.88 to 1.40 when he's on the ice; and he's the only active defenseman with a positive CORSI (1.1). So he's not shutting anyone down, but it's not But if you want an example of someone stepping up in place of injury to play out of their minds, Greene is a fantastic example. Seriously - 26 minutes on average a night in November, who DOES this?
While Greene has certainly impressed me, one player has not only been great, but consistently great for New Jersey in November. Zach Parise, you are the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for November 2009.
|November 2009 - Zach Parise
No, Parise didn't have a game where he exploded for 4 points like Elias and Rolston did against the Islanders. No, Parise didn't drop a hat trick on anyone. All Parise did in November was grabbing points. In fact, he had a point and at least 3 shots on net (at least 4 if you throw out the Nashville game) in every game in this past month with one exception - the Devils' 2-1 win on November 6 against the Islanders. That was the only game where Parise was held to very little. In every other game (11 out of 12, in case you forgot), Parise had a hand in the scoring, somehow and in someway.
In total, Parise managed to score 9 goals, 7 assists, put 50 shots on net (A shooting percentage of 18%!!), take exactly 0 penalty minutes (!!!), and played an average of 21:30. When I said the Devils keep on succeeding because their top players are playing at a high level, Parise's November is a good as example as you can find. He's expected to be the team's offensive leader. He's expected to produce on a regular basis. Parise is doing that and taking more minutes and showing no drop off to his game. He's hustling just as well with Travis Zajac as he does when double shifted to the fourth line. He's more than willing to jam pucks in front of the net to score as he is on breakaways like this one against Washington from November 14 (which turned out to be the game winner):
And I didn't even mention that he's got a point streak that's 10 games long and still going strong.
Zach Parise leads the Devils and all Americans in the NHL in the scoring with 15 goals and 15 assists; and it doesn't look like anything is going to stop him. Especially with the roster being in flux due to injuries, Parise's consistent scoring is even more valuable. More so, when you consider he can easily continue to play this well. For that, I feel he is more than deserving to be the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month.
#9 / Left Wing / New Jersey Devils
Jul 28, 1984
November 2009 Devil of the Month
Monthly Stats: 12 GP, 9 G, 7 A, +13, 0 PIM, 50 SOG