Tag Archives: lemaire

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.

Hope For The Devils

The bad news: Parise is likely done for the year, Taormina is probably also done after ankle surgery (12 week recovery from that one, been there, done that), Salvador may have suffered a Scott Stevens-like concussion, and the team is still dead last in the NHL.

But there’s good news, for the first time since the Kovulchuk signing: 9 points in 5 games, for a 90% points attainment. Goals by the handful. Production from all lines. Defense that plays to support the wings on the forecheck and move the puck out on the backcheck. A team that doesn’t fall apart in the 2nd period.

There was likely no single cause for the Devils’ first half collapse, nor a singularity pushing them forward with 40 games to go. Clearly, Langenbrunner wasn’t a great fit as captain – not that he’s a bad player, or the team was bad, but there was a mismatch (I quit two jobs for the same reasons; great outfits with smart people and good outputs, but not a good fit for me). Some of my root cause guesses (back in November) about training and conditioning weren’t that far off, according to Lemaire’s assessment of the team when he arrived. And maybe everyone had overly high expectatoins without any statistical evidence to support MacLean. It’s hard to assess his capabilties based on a short tenure in the AHL, especially when several players on that team were developed by his predecessors (Example: Kurt Kleinendorst. He has a great eye for talent and what to do with it, as a coach and a scout).

But I have hope. I’ve changed my deathwatch on the sidebar to an upwardly mobile ticker: points out of 8th place, and less snark in the stats below. With 36 games to go and 23 points, they’re looking at needing to go 28-9 or better down the stretch (figuring the #7-9 teams will play about 0.500 hockey, give or take a few games). In attainment terms, that’s 78% or more of the available points. It’s not impossible, but it’s far from likely. A 90% run rate in the last five games gives snowballs a brief chance in the Devil’s Den.

Freshman Week With the Devils

Bubba and I attended the Devils’ opening night game at the Rock, and we’re willing to take the blame for the humiliation personally. We left our Elias jerseys at home (in honor of Patrik’s rehab) and rocked it old school red. Our bad. We’ll skip the Carvel during a future game as penance.

But more seriously — I’ve resisted writing about the Devils so far this season because it was hard to find a starting point. The first two games were a disaster from start to finish: lackluster skating, turnovers, lack of aggression, lack of scoring, and a Marty that looked like
his bicep rehab involved reaching for donuts. And then this road trip was the polar opposite: skating until the final buzzer, puck control along the boards, scoring when it counted and the Brodeur with complete crease ownership.

What do I think? I think freshman week is over, and the Devils are ready to get the semester going.

Rob Niedermayer was clearly a great pick up. There are nights I’m going to miss John Madden, but Niedermayer is more than a suitable win here.

The ZZ Pops line needs to relax. They’re working the puck well, the shots will fall.

Niclas Bergfors is a name that hockey announcers will learn to pronounce with glee.

Jacques Lemaire tells it like it is. He was brutal about Brodeur’s performance opening night, and he’s open about his thinking when it comes to defenseman, lines, and even when Danis is going to get a start.

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