The month of April saw another end to another New Jersey Devils season. However, it ended far sooner in this month than in prior months, as the Devils did not make the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-1996 season. Their fate was practically sealed in March and they were mathematically eliminated from the post season on April 2.
Overall, it wasn't a bad month. The Devils went 3-3. Within these six games, they had their good moments, some bad moments, one total stinker of a game, and a last game they generally controlled. I've long accepted that this day would come, yet it still doesn't feel good to know that the Devils are done already. However, it is what it is. The next few months will be focused on a new head coach, free agency, the draft, and further analysis of what happened this season and what they should do in the next one. Funny how change can seem like such a constant. For now, after the jump, let's review the final month of the 2010-11 season.
The April 2011 Month in Review
For a short month, it was quite busy with 6 games in 10 days - all of them part of a back-to-back set of sorts.
The First Back-to-Back
There was little joking on April Fool's Day, as the Devils hosted the Second Rate Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers were clowned by the Devils, as the good guys stormed them en route to a 4-2 win. Johan Hedberg started his first game since February and played like he was still in February. Anton Volchenkov returned from injury The Devils scored 4 goals on a goaltender and did it all on rushes up ice. The biggest star of the game was Patrik Elias. He was a beast with the puck, driving play forward over and over, and recorded the team's first hat trick in the season.
The following night would have New Jersey host the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal fans bused down to Newark by the hundreds (a few thousand?) to support their team. Devils fans were excited as Zach Parise would play his first game since October. Parise had a decent enough performance, showing that his knee is just fine and making some small contributions to the game. Unfortunately, the rest of the team stunk in a 3-1 loss to Montreal. Martin Brodeur made as many bail-out saves as possible; but the Devils were flat-footed in their own end, agonizingly off-track when it came to passes, and just miserable with the puck. It wasn't their night and the Canadiens took full advantage.
The loss to Montreal was significant in that it officially knocked the Devils out of the playoffs. The rest of the games would essentially be meaningless for New Jersey. How did the Devils respond? First, they shut down those who were injured. Parise skated with the team some more, but was held out of any games. Volchenkov didn't play after April 1. Colin White was shut down for the season. Second, they vowed that they would at least make the most of the games they had remaining.
The Second Back-to-Back
April 5 would be the first "this doesn't mean anything after April 10" game for the Devils. They visited the Pittsburgh Penguins and they put up a fight against them. The Devils weren't all that great in the first two periods and their attempted comeback in the third period was undercut by an early goal against that made it 3-1 Pittsburgh and ultimately killed by a shorthanded empty net goal. The Devils lost 4-2. Pittsburgh enjoyed the better of possession, power play, and performance. The Devils did some weird things (an actual line was Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Adam Mair); but their effort was good, David Steckel scored his first goal as a Devil, and they didn't lie down after the third goal against. It was a sign that when the Devils said they wouldn't stroll through the end of the season, they meant it.
There would be no rest after the loss, however. April 6 had the Devils back in Newark hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs the night before. The Devils would end the night as the winners by a 4-2 score, though the game had its own drama. The Devils put out a better effort early on and were rewarded early on. Mattias Tedenby was fantastic all night long; Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 30th goal of the season; and the team was simply great in the first two periods. A third period filled with multiple power play opportunities turned into a nightmare, as Toronto got on the board on their sole power play and the Devils allowed a shorthanded goal on a 5-on-3 situation. If that wasn't the power play's nadir this season, then that certainly comes close to one. The Devils did get their acts together after the shorty and Patrik Elias slid in an empty net goal to seal the win.
The Third Back-to-Back
April 9 saw the Devils play their final road game of the season at Madison Square Garden. As fate would have it, the penultimate Devils game of the season had some meaning for the New York Rangers. The playoffs were not in their control and needed the win to have the best shot of making it in - requiring Carolina to win their game. Devils fans wanted to see their favorite team knock out Our Hated Rivals, but the Devils decided to make too many errors to make that happen. After a fine first period that featured a brilliant goal by Kovalchuk, the Devils got lit up for 3 goals in the second period by their own design. The Devils couldn't mount much of a comeback attempt in the third while the Rangers kept them honest defensively and even tacked on a fifth goal against. The Devils lost 5-2 and the Rangers' must-win performance was rewarded with a playoff spot thanks to the Canes dropping their must-win game that evening.
As much as it hurts to lose to a hated rival and to deny them some glory, the Devils would once again not be allowed by the schedule to dwell on it. They had their final game of the season against Boston at the Prudential Center in Newark. The Bruins had their first round match up set. The Devils were officially eliminated from the playoffs 8 days earlier. It wouldn't be like most games, and the appearance of about 1,600 to 2,000 Quebec Nordiques fans guaranteed that. Nevertheless, the Devils ended it on a high note with a 3-2 win. The Devils called up Adam Henrique and Alexander Urbom from Albany and both had good games, including Urbom scoring on a wrap-around. Patrik Elias was great as usual and opened the scoring early. Vladimir Zharkov scored on a breakaway. Boston would tie in the first, but really didn't try to get back into the game until they were down 3-1. They would get a consolation goal via tip in with 3 seconds left, but the Devils still cruised to a 3-2 victory on their final day of the season. The players "saluted" the fans in their own way, Zharkov spoke to the fans after being named first star of the game, offered his thanks many times; and the fans - both in Devils red and Nord blue - were ecstatic in their cheers. The last sounds I heard at the Rock were ones of happiness.
Already it is clear that there will be change. Jacques Lemaire announced his decision to retire after the game, returning to his role as a Special Assignment Coach. All we can say is, "Thank you, Jacques Lemaire." Seemingly final quotes from some players (here are a few, as reported by Tom Gulitti) were gathered on Monday as the team cleaned out their lockers on Monday. Some will be concerned on how to make things right for next season. Others will be concerned whether or not they'll be playing for New Jersey next season. And in a few cases, whether they'll be playing in the NHL at all.
I have one last note about the month of April. In late March, I wrote up some reasons to stay interested in the season when it looked like elimination was imminent. Some of them came true. Zach Parise did return, even if it was only for one game. Kovalchuk did get 30 goals. Some of them did not. The Devils didn't get to .500 in point percentage (they ended the season at .494); and they couldn't play spoiler - their win over Philadelphia didn't cause them to lose the division and the Rangers did make the playoffs after all. But they were respectable, and they did it their way - Devils hockey. They weren't wildly successful month at 3-3-0, but they didn't give opposing teams a sense of ease on these six nights (except maybe Montreal after 5-10 minutes into the game). While the games ultimately didn't matter in the big scheme of things since the Devils weren't making the postseason, the Devils played like they did. And so that concluded the 2010-11 season.
Devil of the Month
With a short month, it's hard to pick out who has been consistently great. A few players had good games but marred by something else in those games. The best example from April would be Ilya Kovalchuk. He led the team in shots in April with 16, earned 3 assists, and scored 3 goals - including this beauty. Yet he was constantly pinned back in his own zone; and he certainly struggled when that happened. As nice as the production was, I cannot name him the Devil of the Month in good conscience. A few players had some non-descript games boosted by a great one: like Brian Rolston's 3 assist night on April 1, Mattias Tedenby's game on April 6, or Vladimir Zharkov scoring a breakaway goal. Therefore, I decided to axe the "honorable mention" for this month. Though, there was one player stood out the most in terms of being consistent in April.
The April 2011 ILWT Devil of the Month: Patrik Elias
|April 2011 - Patrik Elias||6||5||3||8||2||0||0||1||0||+27||10||50.0|
Who else but Patrik Elias? He led the Devils in scoring in April with 5 goals and 3 assists. Elias played 4 of his 5 game point-streak heading into April, which snapped with the only point-less game of the month, on 4/9. It wasn't just points that came from Elias, but possession too. Elias was a combined 27 in Corsi with only two negative games: -1 on 4/2 and -3 on 4/5. Not too terrible for a top-six forward who still gets matched up with the opposition's top line. When he was positive, it was emphatic. His Corsi counts for those games were +9 (4/1), +8 (4/6), +6 (4/9), and +8 (4/10). Elias has been a Corsi machine all season long and it didn't slow down in April. On top of that, he scored a hat-trick - a feat no other Devil has done this season.
#26 / Left Wing / New Jersey Devils
Apr 13, 1976
GP: 6; G: 5; A: 3; Pts.: 8
April 2011 In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month