The first month of the season, October, didn't go well at all. The Devils went 3-8-1 and the hope was that the team would try to turn it around in November. Today, we can look back on that November and say to ourselves, "Technically, the Devils did better, but they're not even close to where they need to be."
The New Jersey Devils finished November with a record of 5-6-1. The record is illusionary as it doesn't tell you that the Devils were shutout 4 times in those 6 losses and that 3 of those 5 wins came beyond regulation: 1 in overtime and 2 in a shootout. The team is not in last in the Atlantic Division or the Eastern Conference; however, they are fourth in the division ahead of the hapless New York Islanders (who the Devils lost against) and fourteenth in the conference. The offense is still slumping after 24 games, regardless of what you believe the cause of it is.
It's technically improvement. Though, it wasn't a good month for New Jersey. I don't believe there will be much argument in saying the New Jersey Devils still have a lot of work to do. Let's review the games of the previous months and make a case for who the best Devils were in this past month.
The Month in Review
November started with a lot to be worried about. A 3-8-1 start to the season, losing Zach Parise for 3 months with a torn meniscus, a broken hand to sideline rookie center Jacob Josefson, and the continuation of a 5-game road trip in Vancouver. Up until the first game of the month, it was no secret that the Devils' offense could be best compared to a pop gun. Yet, they avoided getting shutout in any of their games in October. The Canucks and Roberto Luongo were more than willing to be the first to do so to New Jersey in a 3-0 win.
At least the road trip ended on a more positive - and bizarre - note. The Devils actually won the game at Chicago 5-3. It was a game that saw Martin Brodeur leave during the second period - for the first time this month - due to a bruise on his right elbow. Johan Hedberg stepped in, the Blackhawks dominated the game, Hedberg did the best he could, and somehow Brad Mills gets the leading goal late in the third period. In the final minute of the game, the Devils get an empty net goal, Chicago then scores shortly after then, and then the Devils ice the game a second time with a second empty net goal. Because it was a win, it has to be seen as a positive.
Especially since the Devils returned to Newark and lost yet another home game, this time to Our Hated Rivals. It was a disgusting game. Not only did the Devils have yet to achieve a win at the Rock, not only was it another loss to the hated New York Rangers, but it was a 3-0 loss. Yes, a second shutout loss in the same week after somehow avoiding them at all in October. Needless to say, I wasn't happy about the game in my recap, and what Devil fan could be? Surely, there has to be some change. Some initiative to make something happen. Some goals.
The Devils did just that. They mustered up goals against Buffalo in their next game: 4 to be precise. Johan Hedberg did what he could, but he was let down by the skaters' making critical errors on defense in front of him - that other theme from October. The game required a shootout, Ilya Kovalchuk lost the puck on a must-win chance in the shootout, and so Buffalo skated away with a 5-4 win via the shootout. The one time the Devils pile up several goals; the poor defense undercut them and the fans were livid with yet no win at home.
That elusive first win at home finally came on November 13, when Martin Brodeur returned from his injury. It was a thrilling overtime victory. The Devils were losing early on, mounted an actual comeback, and won it on the power play thanks to Mr. Ilya Kovalchuk. The opponent? The incredibly bad Edmonton Oilers. It wasn't the prettiest win, and most fans were in dread when the score was 2-0 Oilers. But it was a win and that ultimately mattered the most. Something to build on: a week where the Devils scored 7 goals in the run of play, a home win, and some lines that turned out to stay together for a bit (namely: Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, and Mattias Tedenby).
Then the Devils went on the road and completely flopped. Three road games in a week and all of them were flops. New Jersey's third shutout loss came first in Boston, where the team was largely listless in a 3-0 loss. A trip to Toronto saw the Devils get one lucky goal, get torched on three by the Maple Leafs, and saw Martin Brodeur leave after the second when his right elbow was hit again (with a skate, no less). A 3-1 loss to the Leafs where a positive was truly "at least they weren't shutout." The Devils were truly the better team on the ice against St. Louis and third string goaltender Mike McKenna had a fine game in his first NHL start since April 2009. Unfortunately, luck wasn't on the Devils side as the Blues scored off a non-whistle by the ref at the crease, a puck that bounced off the boards and then off McKenna to go in, and a deflection that Brad Winchester probably couldn't repeat even if he wanted to. The Devils lose 3-2 despite dominating possession from the beginning. The Devils finally get a home win and follow it with 3 road losses. In a word: Barf.
The end of November saw the Devils go through the one truly "heavy" schedule as it had 4 games in 6 days including a back-to-back against division opponents. In retrospect, it was surprising. The Devils creamed the Washington Capitals - as in the Eastern Conference leading Washington Capitals - 5-0 at the Rock. Whatever bitterness over the prior week or the team's record overall was temporarily washed away with such a rout. Not many expected a win over the Caps, much less a big blowout win. It was the team's first home win in regulation of the season, as well as their first home shutout win of the season. As I said in my recap, it was great.
And it wouldn't last. The Devils needed to build on such a win and in their game against Calgary, they instead only remembered the parts about defending well and having hot goaltending from Johan Hedberg. The offense reverted to being mostly harmless, the Flames had most of the possession but were denied in all shots except for one. The game needed a shootout and even that was low-scoring. Thankfully, Ilya Kovalchuk got the one goal in the shootout to make it a 2-1 win; but the performance by New Jersey was pretty bad in a hideous game.
The ugliness got worse because the Devils would continue that effort, only throw in a weaker defensive game against the then-14-straight-games-without-a-win New York Islanders. The Islanders were hustling and hungry from the get-go. The Devils were floundering until the game was already 2-0 in favor of the Isles. At that point, the Islanders - for the first time in a while, sat back to protect the lead and guess what: they succeeded. The Devils lost to the New York Islanders 2-0, their fourth shutout loss and their fourth straight road loss. While it was only four days ago, it felt like the 5-0 win over the Capitals was an eternity ago. It was truly rock bottom for the team.
The final game of the month definitely served to show that 5-0 blowout of the Caps was an anomaly. The Philadelphia Flyers came into the Rock and hopes were low due to the loss to the Islanders. While the Devils got an unlikely goal out of Adam Mair (both in terms of the goal and who scored it), the Flyers dominated possession and put up tons of shots. I personally didn't like seeing a repeat of what I saw for most of the Devils' last two games, but once again Johan Hedberg played like a giant, the defensive effort was dogged and helped out Hedberg a lot, and the game went to a shootout. The abysmal-shooting Travis Zajac got the winner to end it 2-1. While I didn't like how New Jersey got the 2-1 win, at least I can say they ended the month on a high note. It was the team's first win over a rival, the team's first win within the division, and to extend a home game winning streak to 4.
Notice all of the firsts from this month: first win within the division, first time the Devils won 2 straight games (Washington and Calgary), the first win at home (Edmonton), the first week where they won more than just one game (this past week). and the first home game winning streak. It took until November to accomplish most of these, whereas most teams have done this in October. Moreover, the Devils accomplished some of these at the end of the month. Better late than never I suppose, but it really highlights how much the Devils have struggled this season as if the poor record wasn't enough.
In terms of health, the Devils did welcome Brian Rolston and Anton Volchenkov back to regular action. However, the team's injury list grew. Here's the list at the end of the month, as compiled by Matt on this site. Jamie Langenbrunner for most of the month due to a herniated disc, Martin Brodeur with a bruised elbow, and rookie defenseman Matt Taormina with a sprained left ankle on top of being without Parise, Josefson, Mark Fraser, and Bryce Salvador. Matt Corrente came back from a fractured hand, but sat out the last few games with a shoulder injury.
In terms of overall team performance, we can say the defense hasn't been consistently punished due to their errors. I'd go as far as to say they have done an excellent job of limiting their mistakes - ones that lead to goals against - since the Toronto game. That's a good trend. We definitely learned that goaltending hasn't been the problem; plus, Hedberg getting hot in his last 4 starts was instrumental for the Devils to win 3 out of 4 of those games. We learned that the offense is still firing a lot of blanks except for a few games. Until the attack improves in terms of consistency and execution, the Devils will continue to be undercut in most games. We identified that John MacLean's performance as a coach is still up in the air. Part of the problems are out of his control, while others are definitely under his staff's control. The penalty kill is pretty good whereas the power play continues to be craptacular.
Most of all: we know this team still hasn't played to their potential. They don't just need better luck, but better performances more often from more players. Yes, November was an improvement over October in terms of the record; but not a whole lot has changed in how they have played. This has to change quickly because another sub-.500 month could spell doom for any hopes at playing in this postseason.
The Devil of the Month
For such an inconsistent month, it's rather difficult to identify who stood out the most throughout the month. Colin White, October's Devil of the Month honorable mention, had a fine November. His 5-on-5 Corsi ended up positive (+7), his goal differential was only -1, and he did it all while having the highest quality of competition on the team. Anton Volchenkov had a low quality of competition, but he did play with a number of rookies upon his return and not only came out with a positive Corsi (+15) but also a +3 at 5-on-5. While Jason Arnott is the best shooter on the Devils, he only scored 5 goals and one assist this month - and 4 of those goals came in two games: 2 in the shootout loss to Buffalo and 2 in that Washington rout. Hardly an example of consistent performance. Rookie winger Mattias Tedenby came up in the middle of November and had an instant impact with 3 goals and 3 assists; but I think he's ended the month with a bit of a lull and with only 9 games played, that sticks out.
As strange as this may sound, I believe there's another forward who deserves recognition as the runner up to the Devil of the Month. His shooting percentage may be absolutely (and unsustainable) awful, but when the Devils did score in November, he was usually involved. I can only be referring to the newest father on the New Jersey Devils: Patrik Elias.
Devil of the Month Honorable Mention:
|Nov. 2010 - Patrik Elias||11||1||8||9||4||2||1||0||1||60||34||2.9|
Elias didn't get a point in only 6 games he played in: 4 were the games the Devils were shutout, the Calgary game, and the Toronto game. That may not sound like a lot, but Elias was the only relatively productive forward on the Devils this month. He fed Jason Arnott on 4 of his 5 goals this month. Elias also dished a puck to Jamie Langenbrunner for his empty net goal in Chicago, he was part of the plays that got Alexander Vasyunov his first NHL goal and Kovalchuk's goal in overtime against Edmonton, and the breakout pass that got Mattias Tedenby that sweet breakaway goal in St. Louis.
On top of all of this, Elias was a positive force on the ice. His 5-on-5 Corsi for this month was a remarkable +60. Even if he took a big hit in Corsi like all of the Devils in the Philly game - a game he missed for the birth of his daughter - he would be far and away be the team leader in Corsi in November. What this means is that when Elias was on the ice, the Devils were attempting way more shots than the opposition. Want to take out the blocked shots and know his Fenwick (Corsi minus blocks)? OK, Elias still finished with an incredible +55 in Fenwick. And Elias wasn't just making plays, but he was firing the puck plenty of times on net.
In my mind, Elias' shooting has been at least unfortunate but I cannot say he's slumping like the other forwards because he clearly contributes in other ways in a positive fashion. However, he was not the most important Devil of the month of November. This guy was, regardless of how you may have felt about his numbers.
The November 2010 ILWT Devil of the Month: Johan Hedberg
GP MIN W L OTL GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2010 - Johan Hedberg
|2010 - Johan Hedberg||8||425||4||2||1||15||2.12||210||195||.929||1|
Hedberg had a horrible October. He appeared twice and gave up some awful goals in the process. In November, Hedberg more than redeemed himself. He did as Martin Brodeur has been doing for his career, give the Devils a chance to win the game in between the pipes. When he came in for the injured Martin Brodeur in Chicago, Hedberg did all he could against a Chicago offense that was throwing kitchen sinks at him on offense. Three goals were allowed, but none were truly his fault as he came up with 21 big saves in 34 minutes of action that led to his first win of the season.
Ultimately, that would be the theme for Hedberg's month. No, he hasn't been hot in all 8 of his appearances or all 6 of his starts. When he is in, though, he's not getting exposed by the opposition and he's not giving up backbreaking goals that make the fans groan in disappointment. Hedberg has played well in games in spite of a defensive effort that wasn't as good as it needed to be and an offense that has rarely provided for goal support. It hasn't bothered him in terms of performance. The three non-wins and the Toronto game (the game was a loss for Brodeur since they were down 2-1 when Hedberg came in to replace the injured legend), wasn't because Hedberg was unsatisfactory. With that perspective
What drove his numbers so high and why he's here was how hot he got at the end of the month. Hedberg put up a shutout over the Washington Capitals after being snubbed in the St. Louis game, and he really went from strength to strength. Hedberg gave up only four goals in the run of play since the Caps game: one off a deflection in traffic in the Calgary game, one off a one-timer on a rush in the Isles game, a brilliant sharp-angle shot in the Isles game, and a weird bounce that snuck through Hedberg on the right post, went off him, and went in against Philly. Each are hardly groan-worthy; and in total, it's telling of how well Hedberg has been playing since those four instances were the ones where the puck got past him. To put it another way, Hedberg stopped 113 out of the last 117 shots he's faced, a remarkable save percentage of 96.58%.
Let me be bolder: if Hedberg wasn't as hot as he was at the end of the month, the Devils probably end the week with three losses instead of one and the month becomes 3-8-1 instead of 5-6-1. That's how crucial he has been this month.
I don't think Hedberg will keep being so fantastic in net, nor do I think that Brodeur wouldn't be welcomed back. But that's the future. This is all about the past month, and the Moose must be given his due. He has been exemplary in November in filling in for Brodeur, and you can't ask for much more than how he's played in the last 4 games. For that, I feel it's right to name Hedberg the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for November 2010:
#1 / Goalie / New Jersey Devils
May 05, 1973
November 2010 ILWT Devil of the Month
8 GP, 6 Starts, 195 Saves / 210 Saves Attempted, 15 Goals Allowed, 1 Shutout
Do you agree with my selection for the Devil of the Month? If not, then who would you suggest? What about the month as a whole? I may have sounded negative and while there are some positives, overall, I don't think November was a good month. Do you agree with that? If not, how did you see this month go for New Jersey? What would you highlight instead? Please leave your thoughts and answers in the comments.
Regardless, I think we can all agree that the Devils need to have a better December at least in terms of results. Thanks for reading and keep hoping for better days ahead.