While watching the Devils play at the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday night, the NBC announcers made a point that the New Jersey plays a certain brand of hockey and there aren’t that many other organizations out there that you could say the same about (the only other one mentioned was the Detroit Red Wings). When you watch the Devils play, you know what to expect of them year after year, and there’s something to be said for consistency.
While never explicitly stating it, this is something that I’ve talked about over the past few seasons as the Devils either made an early exit in the first round of the playoffs, or didn’t make the playoffs at all. Whether it was in light of needing to return to a more aggressive forechecking effort, making smart plays in favor of riskier, flashier plays, or finding a hard-hitting defenseman, there just were certain things that the Devils are known for and those certain things mostly led to success.
Some may call that boring, I just call it Devils hockey.
Think about some of the Devils’ forwards: Patrik Elias, perhaps one of the most underrated players in the NHL; Ilya Kovalchuk, who shows up and blows us all away with his skill but usually after spending the majority of the game either working hard but going unnoticed or faking himself off the puck; and David Clarkson, whose 30-goal season last year largely was viewed as a total fluke. And how about the defensemen: Andy Greene consistently anticipates the play and makes the right move at the right time; Bryce Salvador, while perhaps a slower skater, plays every game all-out; Adam Larsson is still a work in progress but he’s made infinitely fewer holy-crap-I-just-gave-the-puck-away-in-the-slot passes so far this year, so that’s a good start.
Just about all of the Devils can be called workhorses, but, almost more importantly, the team has resiliency. In the shortened season, every win feels vital while every loss hurts exponentially more, so when the Devils went on a four-game losing streak earlier this season, I was concerned. They weren’t playing terribly, but they didn’t do the little things that New Jersey is known for, and it cost them.
Last week, the Devils played their brand of hockey – forechecking galore! – and won five games in a row, including both the first match-up of the season against the Rangers and a home-and-home against the Penguins, who had trounced them the previous week. This week’s starts off with the first of three match-ups against the Carolina Hurricanes, who sit atop the Southeast Division with 13 points, followed by the second visit to the Prudential Center for the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils close out the week with their fourth game against the New York Islanders – hard to believe that the two teams have played one another so many times in one month’s time, but that’s the way of the lockout-shortened season.
To close this out, I’d like to introduce Devils Happy/Crappy – it’s fairly self-explanatory:
Happy: Both the no-longer-unmentionable Stefan Matteau and Bobby Butler, who wears the number of the newly unmentionable ex-Devil, scored their first goals on their NHL careers on Saturday at home against the Penguins. Matteau’s goal was a beautiful bang-bang play off of a face-off from the right circle, while Butler straight up fired his shot past Marc-Andre Fleury.
Crappy: Devils are still taking some silly penalties, which cost them a power play goal apiece in the Penguins games.