Yes, I’m profoundly sad that the Devils season has ended. As many of the Devils said in the press, they had a team that could have gone far in the postseason, and now three seasons in a row have ended with the Devils going no better than 5-5. Could have is the operative phrase, but I’m equally worried about the this team suggestion that somehow this year’s roster is going to change dramatically.
If it changes for the better, I’m all for it. The Devils looked horrible on defense. Turnovers in their own end, lack of a quick break out, and an inability to clear the big guns from Tampa Bay and Ottawa out of the slot. The Devils were clearly out-coached. Not that the Ottawa top line was that much better than New Jersey’s top line, but more than 80% of Ottawa’s goals came from those three guys. Whatever the Madden line was doing to shut them down wasn’t working, and in all honestly, probably wasn’t Madden, Pandolfo and Brylin’s fault. If you keep doing the same things and expect different results, without any other context switches, it’s a sign of insanity. The same thing goes for the attack side; I could count how many shots Ottawwa blocked but it would only emphasize that the Devils attack consisted of throwing the puck toward the net and hoping for a tip-in. Everyone caught on to it after the first few games, and more crisp passing, cycling and quick shots were in order. But see above regarding turnovers.
I’m betting on changes at the blueline. I’m also betting that Lou doesn’t hold on to both of Rafalski and Gomez, and my public opinion is that if that’s the case, Gomez should stay. He had a great playoffs and he scored when needed. There’s chemistry on the EGG line (when healthy) that could promote them into the ranks of Heatley-Alfredsson or Lecavalier-St. Louis in terms of consistent offensive threats. With Brylin on the fourth line for the last game, it’s clear that his stock is falling, so the Devils are short of quality centers. And finally, if Gomez crosses the Hudson to wear a blue shirt, he will be the subject of more fan derision than Bobby Holik. It’s not always about money.
We stopped by the last regular season practice at South Mountain Arena, before Lou closes up the practice sessions to the public and preps the Devils with secrecy typically shrouding the NSA’s budget.
We caught this video of Zach Parise signing an autograph on my son’s (new) favorite hockey hat, doing a great job with a barehand on the silver Sharpie, balancing pen and hat against his other gloved hand. It’s not the prettiest nine seconds of fame, but it gives you a good idea of just how accessible the players are once they’ve poured out sweat (and sometimes blood) in a practice. That pinging sound you hear is Sergei Brylin working on his shot.
I don’t want to seem melancholy on the first day of the playoffs, but that was possibly the last Devils practice that I’ll be able to catch when I have fifteen free minutes. Starting in August, they’ll be using their new practice facility in Newark, decidedly more than a five minute drive away. There was always something fun about sharing the ice with the “big” Devils, even if we did occasionally have practices and games moved to accommodate a last minute skating session.
We’ll have to go on the road for our snippets of fame.
I learned many things today: Continental Airlines Arena can be quite loud when the fans are hungry for a win. Scott Gomez’ rear end is the cause of good deflections (it wasn’t his leg, it was his butt, the play was in front of us). Tommy Albelin is an exemplary over-40 hockey player (and he’s one of the humblest, nicest guys you’ll ever meet). But perhaps the most important thing I learned today is to never, ever wear open-toed shoes into the men’s room at the arena when the Devils score a goal. Most wives and girlfriends will profess that our aim isn’t great when we’re focused on the game. And when the game permeates the bathroom via the foghorn, well, a warm feeling is shared by all.
I didn’t build a huge prelude to the game. We weren’t there for the opening face-off because we were finishing a Little League game. I wore my brand new Elias Metallurg jersey, which got some great comments and stares from the Section 232 crew. I ate my pretzel before the chicken since the pretzel was a sort-of lunch leftover from Little League, and the chicken was an early late afternoon pre-dinner snack.
Oh yeah, the Devils put three goals in during the first period, two more going the long way away from our seats, and our house was broomless. Lou did an amazing job juggling the lines, keeping everyone’s legs fresh. Paul Martin led all skaters with 24 minutes on the ice, and nobody looked tired (except for Kozlov, who looked like he just left the Metallurg cement factory with free samples in his skates).
I didn’t foreshadow this one, but the Devils players did: their cars were parked in the South Mountain lot today, just as they are for any other home-and-home series. What I’ll do, however, is remember a bit of the 2000 playoffs, when the Devils were down 3-1 to Philly, and I was forced to listen to Game 5 via out of market radio broadcast from a hotel room in Boston. The hotel manager still has no idea why I was screaming “Freakin’ Brylin” loud enough to wake the people in the next room.
I’ll be in a hotel the night that Game 6 is scheduled. Coincidence?