Tag Archives: gionta

Company In The Cellar

The game’s not over yet, but it looks like the Devils will end up tied for the worst record in the NHL after tonight’s fiasco in Florida. There are probably a dozen little things wrong, but in the overall scheme of “new Devils hockey,” there are three obvious abominations:

Defensive positioning. Guys standing around, or leaving the weak side of the net wide open. Four white shirts down low, and nobody on the point. Even our squirts know how to start a breakout, and there’s nothing to start if your wings are down low. Hel-low?

Offense. Not just lack of goals, but lack of attempts to score goals. Shoot the puck. We adore Patrik Elias with religious fervor, but he needs to fire the puck at the net. Earn that “C” back, Patty. Which leads to the clincher….

Leadership. Gionta taking multiple minors, including a dumb one for delay of game (on a backhand pass over the glass), six straight minors, random efforts all indicate that someone other than Sutter needs to step up and straighten out the helmets. Establishing leadership means taking some risks, being creative, and what Mark Cuban calls “doing the work.” Even if the refs aren’t.

It’s a rare combination of dumb and dangerous to predict the entire season based on four games, but 1/20th of the way through the season the Devils have a pair of points. That puts them on pace to match Philadelphia. Last season.

Mamalushen with Chico

I bust a gut listening to the telecast of tonights Devils-Habs game. During the pre-game Chico Resch made a big deal of Sheldon Souray’s lack of scoring against Brodeur, trotting out enough cross-linkages between the Devils, Canadiens, traded players, Brodeur’s home town and defensement leading their teams in scoring to make a serious wikipedia entry.

Chico called it: halfway through the first period, Souray scored on a wicked shot. So much for trends, streaks and historical references. And then Chico said “Well, in Hebrew there’s a word for that, it’s ken-a-hora.” Nothing like some mamalushen (mother tongue) with Chico (Glenn) to dismiss a ken-dryden-a-hora (early blessing, invitation of the evil eye). Technically, it’s more Yiddish than Hebrew, but Chico gets a hall pass for at least being in the right demographic.

All’s well that ends well, and the Devils rallied, converted on both ends of their first 5-on-3 and half of the next one, despite losing Madden (facial laceration and swelling), White (upper body injury), and Gionta (groin pull while getting pulled down). Elias iced the cake with a nifty backhander, and zeit gezunt (be well) Chico.

Chico may decide that spurring the red and black on with some blue and white is a good idea, so here’s a handy field guide to Yiddish in hockey:

Nudnik. Brendan Shanahan. Even if it doesn’t concern him, he’s got his nose into it. I bet he knows what the inside of Jagr’s bag (interpret as you wish) smells like.

Petzel. Sean Avery. Literally, a little wiener. Not like the dog.

Klop. A wrist shot. Literally, kind of a knock, but with finesse.

Zetz. A more serious slap shot, with some serious lumber on it. What the “D” need to do – give the puck a zetz.

Meeskite. Ugly, really really ugly. Makes Pascal Rheaume (above) look like he should be on Grey’s Anatomy.

Heymish. What you’d expect to find in a man’s man den. Homey, yet solid. Rafalski’s goals: very heymish

Chico – welcome to the mishpocha (family). And if you’re laughing, make sure you check this out:

Fixing The Devils

The season is a bit past the quarter post, and the Devils look like the leftovers on an Atlantic City buffet table. It’s just not pretty. Seven goals in a five-game road trip, three points out of a possible ten, and they’re looking at the Islanders’ tail pipe in the standings. It’s not a lack of talent or a lack of leadership. It’s finding the right combinations.

So here’s my completely non-expert, biased fan’s view of how to fix the Devils. I am not a coach, nor do I play one on television, and my hockey expertise is limited to beer league and running the clock at youth hockey games. But I’ve spent almost the equivalent of a new car on Devils tickets, so I’m entitled to my shot at being Lou For A Day:

  • Fix the lines for at least three games. You don’t learn anything by having guys rotate through lines. How do you know that Elias is more likely to pass than shoot if he’s on the off-hand side of the slot (versus having the goal to his right from the left hash) unless you’ve been on the ice with him? So this means “fix” in both repairing and retaining senses. My personal line card would have Gomez centering the first line, Langenbrunner and Elias on the wings, because you have the most speed and two of the best finishers on the team. Yes, Gionta had more goals, but they were of the tip-in or deflection variety (more on that later). Second line: Parise at center, Zajac and Gionta on the wings. Sorry, Travis, but follow Brylin’s lead and move to wing. The Zach-n-Zaj combination gives you great playmaking capability. Checking line is Madden at center, Pandolfo and Brylin on the wings. Brylin and Pandolfo are two of the most under-respected players in the league, and Brylin can score when it counts. Always has. Fourth line is a combination of Rupp, Dowd, Jansen, and Rasmussen, although I’d love to see Barry Tallackson come back from Lowell.
  • Shoot the puck. Sounds obvious, but it’s not happening nearly enough. In the three California losses, the Devils had between 22-24 shots a game, with half of them coming in the third period. The Devils had a dozen shots total in Anaheim with over 35 minutes gone in the game. A short every three minutes means a shot every 3-5 shifts. The puck needs to move more (see above), and the shots need to get on goal. The latter is the bigger problem — shooting from the point is great if you can get deflections in front (Gionta’s signature) but if you can’t park someone in the low slot you need more cutting below the hash marks. There’s been a Bermuda Triangle of lost Devils from the center of the slot to the edges of the crease. Puck movement up and down the boards and along the blue line is pretty but pretty ineffective.
  • Give Marty a night off. Better yet, send Clemmenson up I-95 to Lowell and bring Frank Doyle down for some games (sorry, KK, but he is the heir apparent). If Clemmenson isn’t solid enough to play against Phoenix or Los Angeles, two teams that aren’t exactly smoking the league, then get help. Marty’s performance in the shootout last night can be summarized in one word: tired. True, the schedule that had the team going from La-La-Land to Silicon Valley back to Hollyweird didn’t help, and travelling in California is stressful at best, but three games in four nights over a holiday weekend is a bit much.
  • Get butts in seats. Think the Devils like playing in front of empty seats, in an arena that needs about 14,000 voices to get epsilon louder than the ventilation system? This is a positive feedback loop — fans encourage the team, the team plays for the fans, the team plays better and more fans come to games. Give out vouchers for the upper level to every school, youth hockey program and youth group in the state. If the tickets aren’t sold, what’s the downside? Get some fans in the building and they’ll buy concessions and add their noise to the mix. Encourage season ticket holders to resell or trade games they can’t use. I’d gladly trade games I’m stuck with for 4 or 6 seats to other games, if the Devils make the trade. The San Francisco Giants “Double Play” system pretty much assures that season ticket holders get their full value out of their seats, by getting butts into them. Create demand, and the fans will come. If there’s insufficient demand, start by giving things away. iTunes is free. WAPP-FM was free for one glorious summer. Solaris is free (sorry, had to put in the plug).
  • Tell Patrik Elias to have fun again. In seasons past, when Patty missed a shot or a pass when wide, you’d see Patty holler something funny (as evidenced by the smile on Gomez’s unshaven face) or laugh himself. He’s A-Rod serious now. We need the guy who used to pick up the trainer’s scissors to give Gomez an impromptu haircut. Perhaps it’s wearing the “C”, or perhaps it’s trying to figure out how to get the team to settle down, but Elias should lead the way he always has — have fun, carry a big stick, and shoot the puck. He doesn’t have to be Scott Stevens, because he’s not Scott Stevens. He’s Patty. He’s a soccer-playing, Euro-cool, well-spoken, dumpling-loving oenophile (how is that for statistically improbable phrasing?)
  • Everyone will relax, the goals will come, the game will open up, and the fans will return to watch grown men playing a simple sport that’s incredibly fun. Want an example? Here’s an open invitation for the big Devils to stay after practice this Saturday to watch the youth Devils play. Let the kids sign autographs for you, instead of the other way around, and sit on the bleachers that give you cold metal burns on your butt, and cheer for our goalie who wears #14 (because he worships Gionta), and our defenseman nicknamed Big Bird because he has the same look and disposition (but a much better slapshot) , and our third-line center who broke his foot but comes to every game to sit on the bench and cheer for his teammates. We share a rink, we share a jersey crest, so why not share in some fun?

    Great Season

    It’s over. Just like that, on a Sunday evening that feels more like October than May, the Devils are done for the season. No heads hanging down here, though, because it was a great season.

    Who knew Marty would win 43 games and lead the NHL in wins?

    Who knew Patrik Elias would recover from a case of Hepatitis A so bad that it would have literally killed someone like me? And he recovered enough to lead all scorers through two rounds of the playoffs.

    Who knew that Cam Janssen would be so much fun to watch and single-handedly make many of us forget Bobby Holik (apologies to the 8 year old kids at the Little League fields yesterday; the guy I told you was Bobby Holik really isn’t, but I like having kids ask him for an autograph).

    Who knew that Brian Gionta, one of the few (non-jockey) professional athletes shorter than me, would set a new season record for goals by a Devil?

    And so this one is in the books. Now I can watch the playoffs a little more quietly, without packing my new Elias Metallurg jersey for this week’s business trip, and cheer for either the Ducks (with pseudo-cuz Vishnevski and former Devil Nieds) or San Jose (the work-related home team). I’ll follow the draft with one eye on the Yankees box score and one eye on the nhl.com website. Starting June 28th, I’ll begin worrying again about what trades, signings and contract flurries will fall around Lou’s office, and eagerly await the new NHL year on July 1 when we hope we have some new long-term franchise players.

    On August 15th, Devils Youth Hockey camps start up, and the 06-07 season will officially be under way in our house again. I have merely three months off (from hockey, at least).

    Thanks, Devils, for a great season. I’m already speculating about next year, because who knows?

    Streaking

    I will admit to a bit of a work detour today to check out the Devils boards hosted by the Newark Star-Ledger. The fans have not given up yet.

    Every streak begins with one thing going the opposite way. Deflections. Soft goals. Power plays. Passes up the middle (ask the Joffrey Lupul of the Ducks). The Devils have had streaks of 9 in a row (anyone remember that from early in the season), then 15 in a row, so four in a row isn’t out of the question.

    Who wants it more? When it came down to overcoming a 3-goal deficit in Montreal, it happened, clinching the division. When it came down to annihilating the Rangers at the Garden, it happened. Last night, when it came down to a game-tying goal, it happened (thanks Patrik, and Lou, please remember that around June 30th at 11:50 pm).

    The series now alternates between arenas. In a way, good for the Devils, as they’re pretty tough when it comes to playing consecutive games with funky travel schedules. Notch a win on Saturday, and then a new streak can begin.

    If not, then we’ll end the season with dignity and our heads up, after having seen great hockey and the emergence of true grit from Elias, Gomez and Gionta, as well as the maturation of Paul Martin and David Hale on the blue line. Who thought Elias would be a consistent leader in hits per game? There’s a whole off-season to ponder these things and I’m hoping it doesn’t start until mid-June for our Devils.

    It only takes one thing to reverse a streak. Even the Red Sox figured that out.

    Matzah, Mishegas and Meadowlands

    It was all there in one big package today: peanut butter and jelly on matzah sandwiches, hand-carried through security at the Meadowlands, to watch the Devils absolutely dismantle the Flyers. We were breaking so many game-going traditions I was a bit worried we might induce the evil eye: I wasn’t wearing my Gomez and Lagenbrunner-autographed jersey, as I just framed it; I wasn’t wearing my Czech hockey shirt, as I wore it when the Devils did a number on the Flyers earlier in the week; we weren’t eating chicken fingers and pretzels due to the Passover holiday.

    Sometimes I think all of our little superstitions are there just to be sure we have something to fall on when things go badly. Today was not one of those days. Matter of fact, today was a day of complete and total mishegas — Yiddish for happy confusion — if you were keeping the Devils’ record books. Matzah and mishegas at the Meadowlands — sounds like something brought to you by Mickey Katz.

    Some milestones set today:

  • Brian Gionta picked up goal #46, tying him with Pat Verbeek for the single-season Devils record.
  • Patrik Elias notched career point #500 on his first of two goals. With two goals and an assist, Patty has 43 points in just 37 games this season.
  • Devils won the season series with the Flyers, 5-3. Doesn’t really matter since if the Devils remained tied points-wise they’ll be ahead in the wins column, which is the first tie-breaker, but it’s nice to get the best of the cheesesteak gang this season.
  • I was a really loud fan. I invoked Tommy Salo (Swedish Olympic goalie who let his country down, as I inferred Robert Esche had done in Torino), Veronika Varekova (who might be more effective at center against John Madden than her husband, Petr Nedved), the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show (who has the best shot at getting Forsberg healthy), and my online Czech-English dictionary, which may have caused me to confuse “Thank you very much” with “Many times I have seen the spotted woodpecker”. Mishegas, indeed. And I apologize to the little kid sitting two rows in front of us who may have learned some new vocabulary words today.
  • So it comes down to Tuesday night. The Devils are in Montreal – Marty Brodeur’s home town – while the Rangers play the rather potent Ottawa Senators. A Rangers loss coupled with a Devils win puts the Devils atop the Atlantic Division. At this point, if the Devils win, it doesn’t matter what the Flyers do, but we’ve been saying that all season.

    Back to the EGG

    You know it’s a good day when your favorite hockey play has his mug on the nhl.com splash page. Patrik’s back — Elias returned to the ice last night at the Meadowlands, reunited with Gomez and Gionta on the EGG line. For all of the excitement in our house, it could have easily been a reunion of the band whose bass man first brought us Back to the EGG.

    Patrik looked good, using his body as well as his stick, and he was smiling – one of the things we love best about Elias. It is supposed to be fun, right?

    A big night all around – Jamie Lagenbrunner notched his first goal since Thanksgiving. Marty Brodeur got his first shutout since Easter – of 2004. Scott Gomez assisted on the first two goals, giving him a streak of registering 8 points on consecutive scoring plays, a new team record. Paul Martin, who has struggled as a sophomore, looked sharp and picked up an assist as well.

    Unfortunately, the good hockey vibes didn’t carry up the Turnpike to the Ice House, where the NJ Ice Dragons ended our winning streak at one game, dropping an ugly one 5-3 and putting us at 3-6 just before the midpoint of the season. When I asked “What happened to the easy teams in this division,” one of my teammates responded “Hey, we are the easy team now.” Ouch. But it’s still fun, which is what I keep telling myself as I hobble through mid town on a chilly matinee day.