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Martin Brodeur

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Preview: Late Night With the NHL

If you watch as much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as I do, you have to be prepared for some late nights. After all, the postseason, with its potential for games that theoretically can never end is often full of overtime epics that stretch into the early morning hours, and this season’s rendition has been no exception. In fact, the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs had a record 16 overtime games, with the piece de resistence being between Chicago and Phoenix, a series that saw overtime in the first five games.

So, of course, it’s only fitting that the last game of the round, last night’s Game 7 thriller between New Jersey and Florida, which didn’t start until 8:30 p.m. despite being on the east coast so as not to coincide with the end of Game 7 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, needed more than 60 minutes to be decided. After all, Game 6, too needed more than 60 minutes to be figured out, resulting in Ilya Kovalchuk’s beautiful backhand feed after noticing he had lured in both defenders on a 2-on-2, which Travis Zajac took in front of the net and deposited between the legs of Scott Clemmensen to save New Jersey’s season.

But what was surprising about Game 7 between New Jersey and Florida was not that it needed more than 60 minutes to be decided, but that it needed more than 80. Double overtime isn’t something particularly unheard of, but overtimes have ended surprisingly early this postseason. Only three of the 16 overtime games this season reached a second extra period in the first round and the vast majority of games were done within about 10 minutes. This seems to run contrary to the typical postseason overtime trend of “try to end it quickly and if you can’t settle in and lock down the neutral zone and wait for a break,” not because games aren’t ending fast on the whole but because they aren’t ending immediately and still aren’t running on forever.

No need to worry, though. The Devils and Panthers solved that problem for everyone Thursday night by keeping the sportswriters, TV watchers and schedule-makers up deep into the evening in a holding pattern until somebody scored. As someone who is, shall we say, emotionally connected to one of these teams, it was an experience that was euphoric at its end but excrutiating for the rest of the duration. After all, playoff overtime is a precarious tight-rope walk where every slight shift in weight or brief mental mistake — and those are inevitable — could mean the end of a game or a season. The playoffs are stressful. Game 7 doubly so. Game 7 in overtime triply so. A Game 7 in double overtime? You get the idea. And despite nibbling on my fingers for most of the late evening, it was an immediate and explosive relief when Adam Henrique did this.

The game wouldn’t have gone that far, however, were it not for the absolutely stellar play of Martin Brodeur. As we’ve noted here earlier, Marty has struggled for stretches of this season and started to look his age — an age that will reach 40 next weekend — and while the Panthers did manage a furious third-period rally that tied the game with less than four minutes left, both of those goals were the result of an unbelievable amount of pressure and maybe a little too much contact with Brodeur put on by Florida. After all, people will forget that a third Florida goal early in the third period was waived off as a result of goalie interference, but they may not forget that the Panthers peppered Brodeur with an almost absurd 19 shots in the third … Read more...

Speak of the Devils: New Jersey at the 3/4 mark

The New Jersey Devils started this season as something of a mystery and for the hockey masses of the Garden State — and elsewhere — that demand some clarity, the Devils haven’t really answered those questions. There are 19 games that now separate New Jersey from the end of the regular season and barring the unexpected it appears the team should earn a playoff berth, something that used to be an afterthought for the Devils. Of course, in a League where more than 50% of the teams make the postseason, that doesn’t really much to tell else just how good this team is or isn’t — and frankly the empirical evidence doesn’t really clear that up either. We do know a few things. We know they’re not bad, although sometimes they can be. We also know they’re not great, although, sometimes they can be that, too.

All in all, if you are a Devils fan, given that the team had a conspicuously murky future heading into this season and was coming off its first non-playoff year since 1996, it’s hard not to be fairly satisfied. After an inconsistent start of the year, the Devils have several positive things going for them. They seem to have bought into coach Peter DeBoer’s aggressive defensive style — New Jersey continues to thrive off turnovers, its penalty kill is third best in the League, the Devils easily have the most shorthanded goals in the NHL and while their average goals against per game (2.71) is not superlative, it has improved over the course of the season.

In addition to that, Ilya Kovalchuk must have been reading this blog, because he seems to have gotten the message and has thrived over the second half of the season. Right now the Russian dynamo has 25 goals and 36 assists, which puts him 11th in the League in scoring, and he seems to have taken his defensive duties on the penalty kill seriously as his three shorties this season are the third most in the NHL. Zach Parise appears to finally have overcome the recovery process from his torn meniscus a season ago, to the tune of 24 goals and 29 assists, and Patrik Elias, with 20 goals and 39 assists seems reborn.

What might be disconcerting however is that despite having a powerful trio of scorers, to say nothing of Adam Henrique being on the inside track to the Calder Trophy as the League’s best rookie and David Clarkson somehow scoring 25 goals so far this season, is that the Devils don’t have much offense beyond that. The Devils are 16th in the NHL in goals per game and their offensive struggles are a sign of some pretty glaring scoring depth. In fact, there is little offense to speak of outside New Jersey’s top six forwards. Of the 165 goals the team has scored in 63 games this season, 139 of them have been scored by just seven people.

That’s an astonishing 84% of the goals coming from just 30% of the nongoaltenders on the team.

This is not the kind of scoring depth that is the mark of Stanley Cup winners. Championship teams roll four lines that both check and score with ease and for any indication of that the Devils can look no further than their own history, as the 2000 Stanley Cup championship team was second in the League in scoring while the 2001 team, which lost Game 7 of the Final to Colorado was No. 1.

For the Devils to have a real impact in the postseason they will need to start getting contributions from their third and fourth lines — not the majority of contributions, but certainly enough to ease the burden lest New Jersey’s elite players be spent by the time they reach the second round.

The good thing is that the De… Read more...

State of the Devils: The Trouble with Marty

By all accounts, the New Jersey Devils are doing quite well relative to their expectations this season. The 2011-12 NHL regular season is roughly halfway over, and while the Devils’ place in the postseason is far from assured, they’re currently sixth in the East — a better mark than expected Cup contenders like Washington, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. Ilya Kovalchuk, with 38 points in 38 games leads the team in goals and is playing like his contract requires, Zach Parise has overcome a slow start to put up 38 points himself, Patrik Elias is playing like he’s 26 again, putting up a team-leading 40 points, and the Devils may have uncovered diamonds in the rough both old (Petr Sykora has turned a training camp invite into 22 points) and young (All-Star rookie Adam Henrique’s numbers — 13 goals, 21 assists, plus-9 have him looking like a future star).

After some rocky beginnings, the Devils appear to have bought into new coach Peter DeBoer’s system, and his aggressive penalty kill is so impressive that New Jersey not only leads the League at 90.4%, but with an NHL-best 11 shorthanded goals in 70 opportunities (15.7%), the Devils are actually more likely to score down a man than on the power play, where they’ve scored 22 of 148 times with the man advantage (14.9%). That may say more about how bad their power play is than anything — and it is fairly bad — but the point is they aren’t handicapping themselves with mistakes, and their aggressive forecheck is creating opportunities, which are leading to wins. Need an example? Look no further than Wednesday night, when Kovalchuk displayed just how effective New Jersey can be at forcing chances off its defense.

But as any dedicated Devils fan could tell you, the positive signs the team has display are encouraging, but with the team unlikely to compete for a Stanley Cup this season, they are just background noise for the two biggest weights that hang on New Jersey’s shoulders. The first is Parise’s uncertain contract status, but as neither side seems to be talking during the season, with little news to report, there is little to talk about. The more prominent concern, however, is the uncomfortable process that every team must deal with eventually, that of an aging superstar losing his skills but needing a face-saving ride off into the sunset. The Devils have never really dealt with that before. It’s unusual that one of their star players remains with the team through the end of his career — particularly since New Jersey has never seemed particularly interested in cultivating “stars” — but the closest approximations the Devils have dealt with so far are the three men whose numbers hang in the rafters.

Of those three, none of them ever presented the Devils with the uncomfortable quandary. Ken Daneyko retired when his skills had clearly eroded (though not before providing an emotional boost by playing in Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final after being a healthy scratch through the first six games), Scott Stevens had his career end due to a concussion and Scott Niedermayer played the last five seasons of his career in Anaheim. While the retirement of their numbers is warranted (though some could argue Daneyko’s place in that lot), none of them represented the awkward situation nor the titanic stature of Martin Brodeur.

No one can argue Marty’s on-ice achievements. He is the NHL’s all-time career leader in regular season wins, shutouts and games played. In his career he… Read more...