Tag Archives: elias

Career Goals and Points

I stand corrected – a few weeks ago I posted that 2011-2012 would be the last year in Patrik Elias’ contract with the Devils. It’s not; I was off by a year and inadvertently rushed him out the door. No, no, no, no didn’t want to do that.

Let’s just say that a guy who knows a guy yelled at me for this, and says Patty is here for 1,000 career points (or more). With 816 career points in the NHL, all with the Devils, and averaging roughly 70 points a year, that’s two-three more solidly productive years. I’ll sign up to watch and cheer for those career goals (and points). And implicit in that is the hope that the NHL suffers no further labor issues, and that players benefit from a CBA that respects seniority, loyalty and market dynamics.

What I find amusing is that Bubba and I were just talking about Elias’ career with the Devils, and how he’s not only the scoring leader but also the “freshman development” leader. This came after a hot day of summer football practice spent indoctrinating incoming (high school) freshman, and thinking about his role as a literal senior on the field. As I’ve written here before, if the lessons Bubba takes from Elias are about loyalty (think contract), friendship (think Sykora jersey in 2000), leadership on and off the ice, flexibility (played all three forward positions this year), and dealing with negativism (when asked what he did differently to pick up scoring in the 2003 Cup Finals, Elias said “Didn’t listen to you guys” to the press), then he’s chosen a hero wisely for solid points and career goals.

Not With A Bang But A Whimper

This is the way the 2010-2011 hockey world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper (and apologies to T S Eliot).

For the first time since we began following our hometown hockey boys, there is no April joy, no second season, no reason to start watching out of market games because of their scheduling implications. The only things left to do are cheer against the Rangers and watch Zach Parise improve in his last four games before free agency.

As badly as the season started, there were so many things of which to be proud since mid-January. Patrik Elias was on fire, skating perhaps better than before the lockout season, and finishing in the slot as well as he did in 2001-2002. First hat trick in five years – against Philly, a team he just pwns – is evidence enough. Some real chemistry on the lines was a positive. Going 24-4-2 over a 30 game stretch; more than a third of a season of close to perfect hockey in every imaginable shape and form. And yet there were disasters as well: not correcting the trajectory before the season was out of hand (whether it was MacLean, Langenbrunner, or some combination of them and other factors we’ll never know, but I’m personally hoping Dallas goes deep so the Langebrunner trade yields a prospect). Injuries to the defense left us with three freshmen on the blueline nearly the whole season. Colin White’s play improved tremendously once Lemaire was back, and then he was repeatedly scratched with a nagging injury down the stretch. Salvador is gone. Taormina is recovering. There’s such potential there with Volchenkov, Tallinder, and Green all healthy at the same time.

With a long off-season, here’s hoping the Devils stay in shape and train through the warm months. That they come back in September hungry, wanting to never feel this way in early April again. That the echoes of Montreal’s fans signing “Hey Hey, Goodbye” resonate and reverberate, and remind them of what preparation and conditioning and team play can deliver or deny. It was a tough year to be a fan, and yet the last third of the season saw some of the best attendance at the Rock since the buiding opened.

Personally, I’ve yet to watch a baseball game or take out the golf clubs, subconsciously not wanting the miracle of the last two months to end, never wanting to see a wizardly Jacques Lemarie behind the curtain frantically telling us to pay attention to the flash and not the reality. But reality has set in, and for the first time in 15 years, I’m sorry to see the arrival of summer.

Taking Lazy To A New Level

The Devils are not going to make the playoffs because they are a lazy team. Even if they get a few wins in a row, it’s not enough to offset the institutional laziness that has become acceptable on the ice.

Exhibit A: Ilya Kovulchuk does not skate hard to the end boards with four minutes left in a one-goal game. He lets the defenseman beat him to the loose puck. Again. He should be skating as hard as he can, playing the body, and gaining control.

Exhibit B: Forty seconds left and Langenbrunner dumps the puck into the zone, while Elias is in full stride on his wing. “Keep your head on a swivel” is a mantra for youth and high school players, but when you wear the “C” on this team it’s no longer necessary.

Exhibit C: On the first Penguins goal, Colin White doesn’t fill the slot, and lets Kunitz take a one-timer uncontested. If Zubrus had skated hard back into the play he may have had a chance to break up the feed from Crosby. Zubrus glides over the blue line; his body is upright and relaxed as Kunitz releases the shot. On the game-winning goal, White doesn’t bother to notice that Crosby was behind him, untouched. The Devils seem to watch the puck movement more than the MSG cameraman, but hockey plays develop in the space away from the puck. What’s even sadder is that White is playing some of the best defense on the team.

There are very few cures for laziness, other than bringing in a coach that makes the players ride the bikes for an hour after an effort like the last few. Or who dumps a bench on the ice. Or who demands that his players play the game with a modicum of respect for their leaders, their staff, their fans and themselves. What the Devils are doing now is taking lazy to a level that induces nausea.

How Not To Start A Season

The Devils are off to their worst start in 27 years. As far as I’m concerned their 1-4-1 record is an overstatement. They’ve lost five games and haven’t won a game in regulation yet this year. Their inability to score goals is a sign that something is very wrong with this team, and with the talent that was paid for this summer, it’s not pure capabilities.

Kovulchuk is out of place on the right side. He belongs on the left side. The very pretty goal he scored on Friday night came on the left side and involved footwork, stickwork and a slick wrist shot, all from his preferred angle of attack. Part of the reason Kovulchuk is turning the puck over more than shooting it is that he’s not used to that side of the play. Move Elias to right wing (Elias has played all three forward positions, with success, in the last few seasons), and use Parise and Kovulchuk as left wingers. Why is this so hard for Maclean? Is it any wonder the top line isn’t producing?

The power play seems better than last year, but still miserable. If guys are standing around, nothing will happen. You either create space by moving without the puck or create time for the play to develop by moving with it.

Brodeur needs to be told he’s 38 years old and cannot play back to back games. He looked miserable last Saturday night in the second half of a weekender, and he looked just as bad tonight. This is the test of a coach – get Brodeur to behave like a team member and not a spoiled, selfish player.

Light a fire under Langenbrunner to start leading by example, or rip the “C” off his jersey. And trade him. Anywhere for anything, just to remove the cap hit. Josefson was skating with purpose, finishing checks, and moving on every shift. Langenbrunner lollygagged back to the puck during a 5 minute major power play last night. If he’s not going to skate fast and start the play, nobody else will either. Have a closed door meeting. Better yet, just stop the nonsense that started during last year’s playoffs. It’s horrible to watch, and it sends the wrong message to his teammates, the fans, youth hockey players, and just about everyone else.

For all of the ownership’s self-congratulatory noise about their “Jersey Tour” this summer I haven’t seen one thing to improve attendance. Where are the day-game cheap tickets (if there are tickets left for Capitals games, you can buy them for $10 once the puck drops)? Where are the promotions to get first-time fans to the Rock? Where is the fan outreach? Stupid in-game production where fans start cheers are annoying at best, and do nothing to fill the 5,000 empty seats a night. Friday night you had your choice of seats in Section 118. There were maybe 14 people there, and nothing but empty rows above them. What message does it send to the players when they look behind the opposing goalie and see black chair backs?

This season started going down hill when ownership insisted on doing the Kovulchuk deal. Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled he’s a Devil and think he’ll gel well with the team over the next few weeks. But running a professional sports team isn’t about doing a “big deal” like a Wall Street bank or law firm. It’s not about attention and being a Master of the Universe. It’s about building a winning team and a winning tradition, so that you have a fan base that passes on loyalty, pride and respect for the team like family heirlooms.

If we’re going to keep Kovulchuk with his $102 million price tag, other players have to go to keep the team balance. That means ownership has to tell Lamariello that White must go, even though White was a big part of two cup teams — 8 seasons ago. White looks miserable next to Taormina. He’s not helping Urbom, and he takes stupid penalties because he’s not in the play quickly or strongly. Ownership has to get Langenbrunner to either step up or step out, because he’s exuding negative leadership. That’s the hard work of running a team, and it’s everything that the big press conferences isn’t. But it’s time the Devils got a team effort from the front office to the box office.

Kovulchuk Is A Devil

I’m flat-out delighted that Ilya Kovulchuk will be a New Jersey Devil for the next 17 years. The last time I was this happy was when Elias signed a 7-year deal assuring he’d play in New Jersey until the Bubba graduated from high school. Kovulchuk might be the first player that we cheer through four generations of my family: my parents, me, our kids, and with the length of this contract, possibly some grandchildren. Don’t tell my kids.

Kovulchuk wears #17 in honor of Valeri Kharlamov, whom he was only able to watch on tape, sitting with his father. It’s a story I wouldn’t mind telling to some new leaves in the family tree.

Blogging during the press conference now being streamed on the Devils website

Parise, Brodeur and Elias sitting in the front row, talking like it’s the first day of school and they’re all discussing what they did on summer vacation. Kovulchuk looks relaxed, he’s making jokes, and he said quite simply “there is unfinished business from last season.” He admits to being nervous, and he’s joking from the stage. It’s hard not to like this guy. “I’ll be a Devil for life”. Jersey does that to you.

Do Stan Fischler’s questions add value or only repeat the obvious? I think the question answered itself.

Here is some of my own thinking about this 17-year deal: The Devils are thinking long-term, and are building the value of this franchise. Every playoff game played in the Rock earns the Devils about $1 million (16,000 tickets at an average of $50 plus concession sales net of operating costs). If the Devils play five more playoff games over the next few years, the team could eat the end of this contract and still be ahead on operating margin.

Devils’ End

It’s just about four weeks since the Devils’ season ended and I’m finally rational enough to write rationally about it. I think this was the most uneventful, non-season in the decade I’ve been a season ticket holder, and therein lies the problem.

Lou signed Ilya Kovalchuk, but Lemaire couldn’t figure out how and when to manage him, and how and when to let him freelance, so an opportunity was wasted.

When veteran players were hurt (Clarkson, Martin, Elias) the young guns from Lowell played well, and the team had a fine November. The fire and energy seemed to disappear after Christmas. In particular, Paul Martin looked like he was afraid of contact, puck control, speed, and possibly the groundhog’s shadow after he returned. Disappointing, and you wonder what the deeper root causes are for such a tail-off in performance.

Whatever happened between White and Langenbrunner at the start of the season didn’t do much for White. I’ve never seen a veteran defenseman stand around, miss his man, and generally be useless in defensive situations. And then Lemaire put him in front of the net on the power play, which sums up Lemaire’s attempts at coaching this team. During the last game versus the Flyers, the Devils spent an entire power play passing the puck along the perimeter, without anyone moving to create space, or create time to a shooting lane to open up. When someone with a USA Hockey Level 2 coaching card recognizes this problem, you have a huge problem on both sides of the bench.

After the first of the year, the Devils just looked like they were mailing it in. Inconsistent play, random defense, and the constant juggling of lines and player head games were disgraceful. You can’t blame just the coach or the GM or the players; it’s a combined team effort from the front office to the guy who drives the Zamboni on the practice surface. Everyone has to want to win, and has to work like that every single day. Perhaps the Devils have just become complacent; playoff apperances and division titles are nice and everyone collects paychecks with a reasonable summer vacation. Look at what Mike Cammalleri has done in Montreal, where he came in with a great attitude, a love for the game and the city, and pissed off at some previous employers: They’re in the Conference Finals and Cams is leading goal-scorer in the playoffs. That’s what wanting to win does.

The fans don’t like this. The players shouldn’t like this. And I’m pretty sure that the Devils money-losing season means that the ownership doesn’t like this. I’m expecting wholesale shakeups in the off season, and the signings of Tedenby and Josefson are great starts. What they lack is a coach that will let the captain lead the team, and an intimidating presence like Stevens, and some mutual trust between players, coaches, and leadership. We can only hope that we’re able to see beyond our current, collective impression of the Devils and let the youngsters lead the way to an improved state.

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Pathetic Devils Effort

Why are Colin White and Mike Mottau together? On the winning goal, Colin White (a) followed his guy behind the net (b) reached, leaned and otherwise made lazy swipes at the puck and (c) left Mottau to remember to cover the weak side (oops). These two don’t belong on the ice at all, let alone playing first pair defense. The same dumb mistakes re-inforcing each other. It’s like the cyclotron of stupid. The particle accelerator of bad defensive plays. Who needs the Large Hadron Collider when you have these two ejecting pucks to the Flyers at near-relativistic speeds?

Will Elias hold on to the puck? Patty, we love you, but shoot the puck, control it, and more crisp passes please?

I’m laughing that Kovulchuk believes this post-season will help set his market value. It will, but his stock is taking it in the shorts worse than Goldman Sachs right now.

Langenbrunner either needs to step up and get pissed off, like Scott Stevens, or step down as captain. Amazing that the biggest emotional outburst from him all season was when Lemaire sat him for a game. Go listen to some more emo music, maybe that stack of Coldplay albums and Dave Matthews whining will help you find a way to get your teammates to step up.

No shots in the last fifteen minutes of regulation is a sign that either the wrong guys are on the ice, or the right guys are on the ice too long. Stop juggling the lines, let guys know who they’re skating with, and then demand that they produce. Or sit them. Why is it every coach gets this except Lemaire? No forecheck, no pressure, no movement. If you don’t create time and space, all you do is drop back and set up a shooting gallery for Marty – an appropriate description of tonight’s game.

Pair Mike Mottau with whoever else is in the press box on Tuesday. It’s a must-win game, and he’s a must-move player.

And finally, Devils fans – can we please sell out a home playoff game? I know it’s hard to cheer for an effort like the one tonight, but if we come back to the Rock even up, Game 5 matters. Let’s support the team. Then everyone who paid for a ticket can join in the call for White, Mottau, Langenbrunner, Kovulchuk and Lemaire to collectively figure out which end is the one they’re supposed to shoot in.

I don’t mind watching the Devils lose games. It’s a game, it happens. I hate to see them lose games when they look like they’re already packing it in. That’s not what professionals are supposed to do, and the lack of professional effort is flat-out disturbing, from behind the bench to lazy plays behind the net.

Marty looked great. Without him, it would have been a 6-2 drubbing. I know the Devils haven’t won in Philadelphia since my hair was all black, but three of the remaining games are there. Figure it out.

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Hello Kovi, Watch Out Ovi

The Devils have (a) made a trade worth talking about (b) landed a superstar (c) dealt a jolt to the team that is likely make them focus. It’s not just about the players, it’s also a statement of what Lou expects from his team and their efforts, and what he’ll do when he’s pushed to the point that coaching can no longer correct.

First things first: Hello, Ilya Kovalchuk. Woo-hoo! Love this guy. Complain all you want (or all Chico wants) about his backchecking and defensive coverage, because it’s completely beside the point. The guy is a pure sniper, great skater, and creative on the ice. The Devils’ offense of late has shown all of the inspiration and soloing capability of Cheech and Chong’s band (“We only know three chords!”) with Jerry Channel of Boston’s Neats on vocals (nicknamed “Mono-man” by the hip press in Bean Town). Pair him with Zajac and Parise, or with Elias, and he’s even more dangerous. Add to that the cultural aspect, which I think is far too often down played: Kovalchuk is a Russian, will be a good influence on Zharkov, and can speak a bit of mamalushen with Zubrus and Elias (Elias, like all Czech students of his time, was required to learn Russian in school. Not sure if he still speaks it, but probably can recall enough to holler “Shoot, you ugly lunkhead” in the mother tongue).

Second: Lou made the comparison to the Mogilny trade before I even got on the computer. At the time, Mogilny was one of the best shots in the league, and he delivered in 2000 when the team needed him. We loved Mogilny, especially what appeared to be a good influence on Elias. We are going to heap equal adoration on Kovi.

Third: Oduya hasn’t been the same player since he got hurt. Bergfors was great in the first twenty games and now looks like he realized he skipped a grade and suddenly doesn’t remember all of the math he was supposed to have brought with him. As for Cormier, Google on “Daigle” for what’s likely an equivalent story minus the head shots. That’s it? No Zajac, no Clarkson, no Martin? And they got back Salmela in return? This is a great trade for the Devils. I like JohnnyO in so many ways, but I like Kovi more right now.

Overtime: If this doesn’t send a shock through the locker room, I don’t know what will. It means that if Lou goes shopping for another blueliner, other guys who aren’t stepping up are likely to be shopping for apartments in the hinterlands. It changes the dynamics, the lines, the friendships. Shocks like this can be explosive, further fragmenting a team, or they can be concussive and help the guys stick together a little better. Let’s see what Langenbrunner does with his latest teammates.

Prediction: Deeper Cup run, and a player who can go head to head with the Washington snowman.

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Pain and No Gain

I haven’t written about the Devils since mid-November because frankly, there wasn’t much to write about through the end of 2009. They were playing well, scoring goals, coming up big on defense, and Niclas Bergfors was making a bid for the Calder Trophy. A short stint as the best team in the NHL, a nice lead in the Eastern Conference, and there was much to celebrate as we came up on New Year’s Eve. Then the wheels fell off.

The Devils are 6-7 since December 31st, and are angling for the middle of the Eastern Conference pack. It’s not just one losing streak or a few bad games — it’s an entire 4-week period of inconsistent, low-scoring, badly played hockey. And as a fan, this is ugly and distressing. Of course, it’s also about the time the Devils ask us to pony up for playoff tickets. Advice to Lou: win a few games before sending bills, or your aren’t selling out the playoffs this year either.

Right now the Devils are simply painful to watch. They don’t move the puck well, their defense is shoddy on a good night, they aren’t scoring goals, and the power play has ceased to exist. They’re getting shut out (twice in this span). Half of their goals seem to come on long feeds for breakaways or semi-breaks, which feels more like pond hockey than the NHL. One power play goal in nearly an entire game of power play time is pathetic – and that goal was more of an errant pass by Parise that happened to rattle into the net. Getting beaten to every loose puck, and making passes that So it’s time to write about this mess of a team — or lack of a team — because it’s both cathartic and because this seems to happen once every season.

What’s wrong?

Injuries: Elias, Martin, Clarkson. Zubrus is back. Oduya hasn’t quite been the same end to end rushing guy since he got hurt.

Trepidation: Way too much passing, not enough shooting. Too much thinking, not enough driving to the net. I think you hit a point when things are running badly that you worry more about not making mistakes rather than making something happen. Failing to create opportunity is the first problem. How many passes miss their target, have no target, or are intercepted by an opposing player in the slot?

Leadership: Hate to say it, but where are the reports of a team meeting? Of the team doing something without Lemaire in the room, of the captains sitting with the team and airing out whatever it is? Seeing Langenbrunner get angry and skate hard is encouraging; but this has to carry over to the guys who have the “A” on their jerseys as well.

Defense: Colin White is making dumb plays, or no plays, and when he’s on the ice with Mottau they seem to amplify each other’s bad choices. The most egregious case here was in the Montreal game over the weekend when there were three red jerseys behind the Devils’ net, while Cammalleri was eating a sandwich in the slot. Worse than basic coverage, the defense isn’t starting the puck out of the zone, and there are more times per game than you can count where the Devils get pushed back in on a forecheck because the puck doesn’t make it through the neutral zone. I’d even argue that the breakout schemes the Devils have been using through the first half of the year were well-scouted and now well-checked by their opponents. It’s only getting harder from here, not easier.

Rookie disappearance: I was expecting big things out of Bergfors, Corrente, Zharkov, Halischuk. Bergfors looked great early in the year, and now he’s just vaporized. Zharkov had his moments and now can’t produce. Halischuk is just gone. Yes, it’s unfair to ask rookies to make up for veteran players with solid locker room personalities, but absolutely no contribution from the new kids is worrisome.

This streak of ugliness, like all things, will pass. But I think the Devils need a wake-up call; a specific action and point of focus that will rally them through the Olympic break and into the last third of the season. I can’t watch the hockey equivalent of the Mets any more.
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Powe, Right In The Smacker

Once again Princeton University graduate Darroll Powe put one past Marty, and that’s what it took to unravel a pair of winning streaks. Powe scored on opening night as well, seemingly deflating the Devils out of the gate. Tonight’s goal wasn’t the turning point (it was Van Riemsdyk’s goal that Marty didn’t see in the 3rd), but it definitely showed which was the ice was tilting.

The problem with streaks is that after a while, people pay more attention to the statistics than to the end goals (playoffs, player development, fan attraction, financial management). Better to pick up points consistently than to be streaking one way or the other – averaging 1.25 points per game (or about a 63% points efficiency) is usually enough for a good playoff seeding. I’m not upset the streak of away wins or consecutive wins ended, as the Devils were close to 90% point efficient. You’re going to lose games, although I wish they weren’t to the Flyers.

Much more concerning to me: Darroll Powe basically walked onto the Flyers. Here was a kid playing less than an hour’s drive from the Rock, and the Devils didn’t chase him? He looked like he had the Devils defense scrambling for half of the last three minutes of the game tonight, simply forechecking strongly enough to keep Brodeur in the net. Madden and Rafalski were the oft-discussed “undrafted” players; the Devils draft has produced some huge winners (Parise, Bergfors) but their ability to spot talent outside of the fresh-faced set should be just as good, and it hasn’t produced in the past five or six years.

Even more concerning: schedule compression. Devils lost in their third game in four nights, and fourth in six nights. That’s incredibly tight game timing, and it’s a result of taking a few weeks off for the Olympics. I’m betting it’s one reason there have been a rash of serious injuries to marquee players, and it should be a sign of caution for the banged-up bodies (Niedermeyer, Pandolfo, Martin, Oduya, Elias to a lesser extent, Langenbrunner to a bit) to focus on strong, rather than fast, returns.

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