Kevin Whalen of Pucks and Pitchforks — an in-depth and opinionated New Jersey Devils blog – joins us to give us the inside scoop on the Devils.
NESN.com: How has the absence of Patrik Elias affected the offense thus far?
Kevin Whalen: When news first broke out that Patrik Elias would be missing four to six weeks after having scar tissue removed from the groin area, it was perceived as terrible news for the Devils. However, what needs to be understood about a team like New Jersey is that it is resilient and always adjusts accordingly to anything that happens to its lineup. As the season is progressing, the Devils offense is getting better and better. With Elias out, others have stepped their games up and filled the void. Elias will begin practicing with the team again soon and will join the second line, which should only bolster the offense and give the Devils two very solid lines.
NESN.com: After starting the first nine games of the season and maintaining a 2.42 GAA, Martin Brodeur continues to dominate. What can we expect from Marty this season, one year after missing more than half of a season with an injury?
KW: Martin Brodeur faced his biggest personal challenge to his career last year, suffering a serious biceps injury that left him off the ice for the majority of the season. He came back strong, however, putting up two straight shutouts in his first two games back. This can describe Marty perfectly. He does not miss a beat. Sure, he will go through struggles just like every goalie will, but he always maintains a certain level of confidence to himself that always keeps his game at top level.
After he returned, the Devils met the ‘Canes in the first round of the playoffs and were eliminated in the last seconds of Game 7, on home ice. Marty gave up two goals in the final two minutes for the ‘Canes to tie and then take the lead in the game. The go-ahead goal by Eric Staal went in on Brodeur’s blocker side, between his arm and upper body, one he knows he can stop on any given night. With his season ending terribly last year on a goal that a Hall of Fame guy like Marty should have easily stopped, he will be making this season his way of personal retribution. His GAA should remain right around where it is right now and will break another all-time record, held by Terry Sawchuk, for the most shutouts.
His unique style has kept him above most goalies in this league and players still have fits with beating him. With his sense of control as well as his confidence in his own game, Brodeur will undoubtedly have another 40-plus win season, a GAA average hovering around 2.50 and a save percentage of about .920.
NESN.com: Zach Parise put up career numbers a year ago and is already off to a tremendous start. What separates this youngster from the average player?
KW: Zach Parise certainly has had a brilliant start to his young career and at just 25 years of age, he'll only improve and maintain his level of play for years to come. The thing about Parise that makes him stand out is his ability to create plays when there are few chances for one. He has a spectacular ability to move with the puck by avoiding any interference from opposition. When he has the puck, you can see a sense of assurance now that he developed over the course of last year. Now, he makes great decisions when carrying the puck as well as when he is without it, as he does a great job to get into open ice to create shot opportunities.
These are all distinctions that separate Zach from an average player, but the biggest thing that puts him among the best is his quick release in his shot. The amount of time if takes for him to get the puck and have it leave his stick is very quick, and the accuracy and speed of his shot make it one of the best shots in the game. We can all expect to see Parise among the best players in the league for years to come.
NESN.com: It appears that Travis Zajac is well on his way to a fine career. What do you see him doing this season and in coming years?
KW: Travis Zajac is very similar in development to how Zach Parise came along with the Devils. As Parise had a breakout year last season, you can expect another breakout season from a Devil in Zajac. He was locked up for another four years in the offseason and you can see it has really given him a boost to know his NHL team is backing him for years to come. Zajac will probably lead the team in assists this year and be second in points overall, next to Parise. As his career progresses, he too will become one of the better players in the game, right along side Parise.
NESN.com: What does veteran newcomer Rob Niedermayer bring to this team?
KW: Although I don’t think a team necessarily needs veterans in the lineup, it doesn’t hurt it either. When the Devils decided to part ways with Brendan Shanahan, who was their oldest player and most experienced, it left that sense of leadership off the roster. The Devils have great young talent on the roster right now and they will be great leaders one day. However, with Elias out of the lineup, Jamie Langenbrunner is really the only veteran forward that can lead. Therefore, the addition of Niedermayer brings that sense of familiarity the Devils can use.
Granted, Niedermayer has never been an offensive powerhouse kind of player, but he definitely adds to a line and can set up a lot of plays offensively. He already has four assists this year and I look for him to be among the leaders on the team in that category.
NESN.com: Heading into the week, the Devils were just 1-3 at home while a perfect 5-0 on the road, how do you explain this?
KW: The Devils have never had a problem with playing on the road, as history will show. But, since the season has started they have clearly been a better road team, which would be confuse most people. Wouldn’t a team be better in the comfort of their own environment and therefore win games?
As of right now, I am not looking too far into this because the teams the Devils have lost to at home are all decent teams. They lost on opening night to Philadelphia, which has a vaunted offense, and Ray Emery played a great game (for once).
The second loss came to the Rangers, and in a rivalry game, home ice has no advantage (especially when half the crowd is made up of Rangers fans). The loss they had at home to Atlanta has been the only really bad one, as they were just outplayed and couldn't match the Thrashers' goaltending that game. But in the NHL on some nights, teams are just flat. The Devils will have plenty of wins on the road this year but will also maintain a solid home record as well, but it always depends on who they are playing.
NESN.com: The Devils and Rangers have already had a pair of matchups so far in this young season, is one of the best rivalries in sports still alive and well?
KW: These two teams still hate each other. Watch any of these games and you will see the physicality of the game be a bit more intense than any other ones. The rivalry now has two great goalies in it, with Henrik Lundqvist emerging as one of the best goalies in the league for the Rangers. The faces can change, the teams can be good or bad, but this rivalry is always alive and well — especially with recent playoff meetings in the last few years. Each team has won a round, and that only adds to the intensity of each game that is played.
Any time two teams are close in proximity to each other, there is going to be a heated matchup between the two, simply because each team wants to prove they are the best team around (which has always been an uphill battle for Jersey to get the press they deserve over those big city Blueshirts).
I feel the biggest reason this rivalry may not be getting the attention it warrants during regular-season games is the fact that media and television outlets hate broadcasting the Devils. Leaving them off the national TV market will just keep the rivalry in shadows until they meet in a playoff game. With that being said, if you can watch one of these games, you will see that the two hate each other just as much as they ever have.
NESN.com: Defenseman Paul Martin is in his sixth season patrolling the Devils’ blue line but he recently broke his arm against the Penguins. What has he meant to this team and who can step up on the blue line in his absence? What does this mean for the usually-stout Devils’ Defense?
KW: The Devils are no strangers to overcoming injuries, as many people saw last year. But when it comes to their blue line, it may prove to be more challenging then any other. Paul Martin led the team last season in ice time with an average of 23:57 per game and was used in a multitude of situations for the team. It was announced Tuesday that Martin will be missing up to six weeks with a fractured lower left arm.
It will now be expected that Colin White, Mike Mottau, Bryce Salvador or Johnny Oduya will have to step into the role that Martin made his own as the best defenseman for the Devils. There is no doubt in my mind this injury will give the Devils their fair share of problems, however, with a steady dose of defensemen filling in for the time Martin would be on the ice, they should be able to overcome it. Will the Devils' goals against go up without Paul Martin in the lineup for six weeks? Yes, it more then likely will, but not dramatically or to the point where the Devils are out of a game and can’t win.
Thanks again to Kevin Whalen of Pucks and Pitchforks. The Bruins will meet the Devils on Thursday night at 7 p.m.
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