The New Jersey Devils enjoyed the top of the heap for much of the first half of the month. They have since slid back to a harsher reality and ended the month on a three game losing streak. The first half of the month went splendidly. They dropped their first game of the month for the first time in regulation this season, then won five in a row, and then lost their second game in regulation this season. Then they won only two of the following seven games, including two 5-1 losses and their last three in a row. Overall, the monthly record looks average at 7-6-1. The poorer games that concluded the month stand out in the minds of many fans as they were the more recent games.
While the halfway mark of this 48-game season will occur next week in March, the first six weeks of the season have left one wondering about the Devils. Surely their penalty kill isn't as bad as it has been for most of the month. Surely their power play isn't akin to squeezing blood from a stone has it has in the last few games. Surely the team isn't so horrid in their own end at times. Surely the team can be more productive than nine goals in their last six games. Surely players like Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique won't be so cold in production. Surely David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk can keep shooting and eventually get goals, right? Go back a few weeks and the feelings about the team were far better. They were more productive, their power play at least scored a goal, their penalty kill wouldn't ruin their games, and they played quite well regularly, especially in their home-and-home against Pittsburgh. Look at the last two weeks and there's a lot of cause of concern as to whether it's just a bad run of games or indicative that the Devils may not be as good as they looked earlier.
Honestly, they weren't a top team in the East but they're not quite an average bunch either. The team is a good possession team (11th before the Buffalo game in Fenwick close-score situations at 51.63%) but they get it done with shot prevention more so than generating shots. Special teams have been in a slump along with a few individual players. But slumps will end over time and possession should yield positive differences overall. In theory, the Devils should be fine. When that will be, who knows? As far as the team overall, it reads like a cop out but I believe the quality of this roster remains to be seen.
It also must be said that the team has had to deal with some non-insignificant changes with their roster. Poor play by Jacob Josefson saw him sent down to Albany. The glut of defensemen has remained and so Mark Fayne, Henrik Tallinder, and recently Anton Volchenkov have been rotated in and out of the lineup throughout February. Stefan Matteau's contract became active but he's been in and out as a depth forward. He did get banged up in one game, but has since returned without issue. The team did acquire Andrei Loktionov from Los Angeles for very little, and he's been a recent silver lining to end the month. Dainius Zubrus being out led to the re-acquisition of Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has since been shuffled around the lineup. There were two other significant injuries Ryan Carter suffering a concussion, missed the last few games, and is only now coming off injured reserve. Martin Brodeur tweaked his back before the penultimate February game and currently sits on IR, so Johan Hedberg has take control of the #1 spot. Every team with some kind of flux either by want or need. It still has some effect on what the team does.
The upcoming month has 15 games for the Devils to get out of their current losing streak and build up a stronger record to keep ahead of the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference. The standings remain tight so another bad week or two would be some serious cause for concern. But this is about the Devils in February and in order to understand how they got where they are, let's touch on the 14 games they played.
The Games of February 2013
The Devils opened up the month in Pittsburgh and just played a straight-up bad game. They got creamed 5-1 by Pittsburgh, which turned out to be the first regulation loss by the Devils this season. It was a blowout and they deserved it too. The game featured some horrid play by the skaters both in general and in moments. At the time, the loss made it four straight winless games for New Jersey. Was the fall to come?
No, not yet. The win to break that streak came quickly. The very next night, the Devils went into Long Island, ground out two periods, and broke through and away in the third period. The penalty kill, Steve Bernier, and Moose were massive in the 3-0 win against the Islanders. Our Hated Rivals followed and the Devils were primed for the game. Adam Henrique scored to continue a goal streak against the Rangers from last Spring early on. David Clarkson picked up a turnover and slammed it past a false king. He later picked up a second goal to really drive the Blueshirts deep. They got one past Martin Brodeur, but the living legend denied everything else with grace and aplomb in a 3-1 win. The Devils made it an actual streak when they hosted Tampa Bay two days later. In the first non-sellout game at the Rock this year - and so far the only one - the Devils' special teams were fantastic (yes, both of them), Broduer only made one error, and the Lightning were dropped 4-2. The good times were there again for New Jersey though the Penguins loomed large in a home-and-home.
The match-up was tough on paper. The Penguins smashed the Devils earlier in the month. The went into this game on a winning streak of their own. The two games would turn out to be physical, over the line at times, and filled with all kinds of action. It became the apex of the Devils' season so far. On Saturday, the Penguins and Devils engaged in a penalty-fest not seen since the last Devils-Flyers game. There were twenty-two total calls, thirteen on Pittsburgh and nine on New Jersey. The Devils rose above an early GA and scored three unanswered goals, including Stefan Matteau's first, Bobby Butler's first as a Devil, and a Henrique power play goal. All that and Evgeni Malkin not having a good day in a 3-1 win. Sunday's game in Pittsburgh wasn't as foul-laden and the Pens brought the thunder in the first period. Alas, the Moose was on his game and the Devils took the game over in the second period. David Clarkson got the team on the board in the second period to continue his then-hot streak; Ilya Kovalchuk finished a two-on-one that scorched through Tomas Vokoun's legs; and Clarkson knocked in a loose puck in front to convert a power play and make it 3-0. James Neal scored early in the third in what could have been a lifeline, but the Devils kept the Pens honest early in the third and fended them off late in the third. The Devils won again 3-1, their fifth win in a row, and they did it by smacking down one of the most talented teams in the league back-to-back. How could it get any better than that?
Unfortunately, we would not know because from that point on, the games got uglier. The team hosted Carolina two days later and they just looked out of sorts early on. The Canes pinned them back early, though the Devils got going later and Ilya Kovalchuk scored a power play goal so hard that it needed a review that didn't come until a stoppage about three minutes after it happened. Time was rewound as the goal was good and so there was some bonus hockey. Carolina pushed through in the second when they converted an early power play and then tacked on another off a screen. The Devils woke up in the third as Ryan Carter stole a puck and scored early to tie up the game. Alas, a penalty kill went awry when the backcheck failed to pick up Jiri Tlusty, who fired it through coverage. The Devils tried to tie it up late but it wasn't to be and Carolina ended the winning streak 4-2. The Devils had a horrid first period two nights later in Philadelphia. While the Devils scored on their first shot of the game, Philadelphia rolled up three in a row in a quick fashion to take over in the first period. The Devils were in deep but they clawed their way back into the game despite being out-shot; thanks to Brodeur preventing another Flyers score. Alexei Ponikarovsky scored early in the second to make it a one-shot game and Patrik Elias scored later to tie it up. The Devils didn't get much on net in the third but a Clarkson deflection of an Adam Larsson shot got into the net to pull ahead. The Flyers were held off, Bernier got an ENG, and the Devils completed their biggest comeback of the season to date 5-3. In retrospect, it was a nice win in light of what was to come.
The very next night, the Devils went back to Long Island and found themselves shocked by the Isles. The Isles were not and are not doormats, and they took it to the Devils in the second period. They racked up shots, a 3-on-2 yielded John Tavares' first goal, and two bad penalties in a row by New Jersey were quickly answered by goals from wide open Isles: Tavares and Matt Moulson. All of a sudden, it's 3-0 to the opposition and the Devils looked dazed. Marek Zidlicky converted a power play goal to get the team on the board but that would be all. The lack of discipline returned and a 5-on-3 gave Tavares a hat trick against Moose. A bizarre play that ended with a puck bouncing off Zidlicky and into his own net made it 5-1 Islanders. The Devils responded to that affair with a strong first period against Ottawa on President's Day, got an early goal from Stephen Gionta, and just muddled through the rest of the game. Ottawa eventually tied it up in the third, the Devils looked behind in overtime, and then they lost in the shootout, 2-1. The Devils denied another winless streak in D.C. but they came close. The Capitals went up 2-1 on the Devils in the second period with two power play goals, with only a shorthanded goal by Elias to make it only a one-goal deficit. Despite dominating at even strength, only one goal came from the Devils' 5-on-5 effort - Andrei Loktionov on a rebound. The Caps handed New Jersey five straight power plays and the Devils wasted all but one 5-on-3 opportunity when Kovalchuk - who was strong all game - blasted one from the high slot to make it 3-2. The third period comeback got them the win on Thursday.
On Saturday, there would be no comeback and the losing returned. The Devils and Capitals played a more even game and went into the third 1-1 with goals by Alex Ovechkin and Kovalchuk, respectively. The Caps turned it on and never looked back as they racked up four goals: one blast by Ovechkin through a defender, a horrid mistake by Moose yielding a shorthanded goal, and two power play goals. The third period was a big flop for New Jersey and so they suffered a 5-1 loss. The very next day, Moose had to go back in due to Brodeur tweaking his back in warm-ups. The Jets scored early but the Devils responded with two goals in the first period, one from Zajac on a 2-on-1 and one from Bernier on a jam play. Those would be the only goals for New Jersey, though they did try in the second period to get ahead. Alas, another PK error yielded a power play equalizer in the second and a shot/pass block led to a breakaway by Evander Kane. He got around Moose, who made a bizarre move to dive out of his net 10-15 feet, and got the eventual game winner. The Devils were dismal in the third period and only got five shots on net instead of trying to make a game of it. The Jets added another score to put the game out of reach at 4-2, but the disappointingly lackluster play in the third made it irrelevant. On the last game of the month in Winnipeg, the Devils did play better. However, they just couldn't get their many attempts on net more than half the time, much less in the net. As a result, two disasterous mistakes sunk the Devils. Andrew Ladd scored eight seconds into the game on a breakway. While Loktionov tied it up on a lovely individual move, Ladd finished an end-to-end rush by Dustin Byfuglien by tapping in the loose puck off his wraparound. The Devils tried but they couldn't get that second goal. It was a 3-1 defeat after an ENG and so the Devils ended February with a three game losing streak. Unlike the winless streak that took the Devils into the month, there would be no points earned. The Devils that were near the top of the East earlier in the month are now sitting in seventh. A few quick wins in March and they should rise back up the standings; but it's going to be difficult after what happened in the last seven games in February.
Devil of the Month Honorable Mention: Martin Brodeur
|February 2012 - Martin Brodeur||8||493||5||2||1||18||2.23||200||182||.910||0|
In a month where the Devils were almost like night and day between the first and second half of February, I have to credit the players who managed to perform well fairly consistently throughout both halves. Brodeur would certainly fit the bill even if the monthly statline doesn't look so impressive.. You can count the number of bad goals he's given up on one hand and he really only had one disappointing game: the 4-2 loss to Carolina. As for the other two games where he's given up three or more goals, he was simply hung out to dry in the first game against Pittsburgh, victimized by poor play in the Philly game. Those two games certainly weren't his fault and in the Philly game, he had to play quite well after the team got steamrolled in the first period in order to prevent the Flyers from nullifying the comeback attempt. In all other starts in February, he was simply the goaltender one would expect. He kept the Devils in a lackluster game against Ottawa to drag out a point. He stood tall against Washington as they tried to breakthrough and the Devils had to comeback in that game. He was solid during the winning streak. Brodeur did miss the last two games of the month with a sore back; but he was rarely a main problem for the Devils in his starts. Given his poor numbers last season, that's quite good.
February 2013 Devil of the Month: Patrik Elias
|February 2013 - Patrik Elias||14||3||12||15||7||6||1||1||0||30||.100|
Ilya Kovalchuk has had some quiet games in between his big-impact performances. David Clarkson has been shooting a lot but the goals have dried up and is now on a six-game goalless streak where he's earned only one assist in the process. While their advanced stats at even strength looks real good, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac are either in or possibly coming out of slumps. The other forwards haven't been as good and the defensemen have had their own struggles from game to game. Only Patrik Elias managed to kill it from an advanced stats standpoint as well as bring plenty of production to the table in February. He even got some of that during the Devils' struggles in the last seven games of the month.
Elias led the Devils in scoring within the month of February, finishing ahead of Kovalchuk and Clarkson. He played in all situations and produced. He earned a shorthanded goal, a power play goal, and six power play assists to go with one goal and six assists at even strength. Elias has the second best on-ice Corsi rate on the team at 19.99 to end the month so he's been a big part of how New Jersey drove the play. After counting all of the individual Corsi charts for the games in February, he was only finished negative in Corsi in only three games. It's been the exception, not the rule, that Elias loses in the possession battle within a game. While Peter DeBoer has not used him against tough competition all season, he does often start in his own end and his Corsi Rel QoC has increased a bit. It's not a case that Elias has had it easy, just easier compared to last season. Nevertheless, Elias has been arguably the most consistent performer in this season, much less in this past month. I think it's therefore fitting to name Patrik Elias the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for February 2013.
#26 / Left Wing / New Jersey Devils
Apr 13, 1976
14 GP, 3 G, 12 A, 30 SOG, 10 S%
February 2013 ILWT Devil of the Month
What did you make of the Devils in this month? Are we any closer to figuring out how they stack up against the rest of the East? Would you agree Elias was the best Devil of the month? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about how the team played in February in the comments.