Tag Archives: zubrus

A Ken-A-Hora

I did it. I gave the Devils a ken-a-hora (an early blessing) as my grandmother would say; I invited the evil eye by speaking a hoped-for truth before events had fully transpired.

Or else the Devils are finally showing their age, their intensity, their capabilities, and their motivation.

At 2-5 in their last 7 games, and setting a record tonight for fastest goal-against (8 seconds? I can’t get down the ice in 8 seconds) I’d prefer to think it’s a bit of both. But coming up on the halfway point of the season, it’s time for the leaders to step up.

Kovulchuk and Greene need to make better passes.

Whatever is wrong with the penalty kill needs to exit by the Zamboni door, and quickly.

The big bodies need to fill in for Zubrus and Carter on the forecheck, and exercise some puck control.

Everyone needs to relax, simplify their game, and put more pucks on the net.

And I’ll add a postscript “poo poo poo”, with a red and black ribbon, to hit “undo” on my ken-a-hora.

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.

The Kids Are Alright (I Think…I Hope)

It’s been progressively harder to get ready for Devils hockey each year. Training camp became a mystery to be revealed by proper beat writers, rather than open to the public as it was at South Mountain Arena. While other teams play exhibition games daily, the Devils haven’t played in a week. At least tonight’s game was on MSG (and MSG2, minus any Devils broadcast crew).

There were a bunch of things to like tonight: Cory Murphy looked like he could skate with the big boys and delivered on the third power play according to expectations. Halischuk had 4 shots and seemed to control the puck well once he settled down in the second period. Rolston and Shanahan showed poise. Rod Pelley played a very solid game at center. Given that Elias is still broken, Parise had the night off, and the blueline was missing Mottau and Salvador, it was a respectable game.

And then the not so good: Colin White’s puck control is still a random event generator. Over his stick at the blue line, under or around him behind the net, bad passes — I saw enough of that in the Carolina playoff series. He either needs to seriously get to work or get ready to be a 7th defenseman. I wasn’t in the locker room when White and Langenbrunner went into the verbal corner, but maybe Jamie is pressing White as well.

Finally, the truly weird: The Islanders broadcast was a John Tavares love-fest. Too bad he only had one shot, but turned the puck over more times than I do in a beer league game, and got his pocket picked by that ever-shifty Danius Zubrus. Tavares will most likely grow into a first-line player, but he was much more Daigle than dangle tonight. I had much more fun watching Brett Westgarth play defense for the Isles — Princeton ’07, minor league grinder, now following his younger brother Kevin (Princeton ’07 as well, LA Kings) to the bigs.

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Counting and Accountability

It’s another night of saying “no ken a horas” after watching a 5-0 Devils lead shrink to 5-3. As the Festrunk brothers would say, “I blame myself.” Had to tweet that Elias’ points streak is now five games with the assist on Zubrus’ second goal. An extended two on one that started with Elias falling down (and later admitting to the “D” that he made a mistake, most likely, in a sidebar by the bench). A bit of 4-on-4 as a result of slightly time offset penalties, and then a penalty shot goal? This game is passing strange on the way to heart-wrenching.

Bright spots: Defense looks solid, to the point where Chico and Doc are commenting on it. Jay Leach (up again from Lowell in level, down in geography?) notches NHL point number one, just to add to the counting. The second period is only 3-3 even though the last 3 were scored by the Bolts.

Dim spots: A few minutes of el-stinko hockey made a potential laugher into a game that can go either way. It’s dark – literally – on the ice. Not sure if it’s me or my semi-random, pausing and stuttering MSG broadcast, but the ice surface looks like the players took out half of the lights during warm ups.

With accountability extended to fans, armchair coaches and those of us flipping between the NFL and NHL tonight, I’m going to stop counting altogether.

Playoff Predictions

Game One of the Hudson Hate-Fest starts in 15 minutes. Tom Guilitti’s Fire and Ice blog has some great commentary, including a stream of reader comments. Tom wants predictions, and I can’t resist being an armchair broadcaster, coach and screaming fan:

  • Brodeur is on top of his game. Between the spin-o-rama saves and having great reads on the inbound puck, Marty is so far into the zone he can’t yell at the defense. If the offense gives him some time to relax and breathe, he’s in control.

  • Elias comes to play in April. Maybe it’s the birthday thing, maybe it’s just that every game is the pressure cooker situation he seems to thrive in (how else does he lead the team in game winning goals and shootout goals?). He was quiet during the regular series set with the Rangers, but I remember what he did in 2006 when his first-round performance had him in the playoff scoring leaders after the Devils were bounced.

  • Zubrus + Vish >> Jagr + Gomez. Gomez plays like he’s already scheduling his tee times in April; he’s the anti-Elias. Everyone is hyped about Jagr coming on strong late in the year, but watch his shifts: they aren’t the end to end, skate till you puke then change shifts that win playoff games. I’ll take Zubrus and Vish along the boards. And for Stan Fischler’s comments about Gomez knowing the Devils’ weaknesses, he’s right: it was Scott Gomez in the playoffs. I’m eager to see how all of those miles on the post-game bike rides play out in these games.

  • Langenbrunner time. Jamie has been quiet lately on the ice. What matters more is what happens in the locker room, on the bench, before the game, and everything else that establishes a winning context.
  • This is going to be a grind it out, long series. My predictions: it goes at least 5 games, probably 6. Rangers win one in the Rock, but the Devils humble the Rangers at least once and depose King Henrik. With all of the talk of playoff experience, doesn’t anyone remember Lundqvist’s first playoff experience against the Devils?

    Starting Simple

    One of our youth hockey coaches likes to tell the kids to pick simple goals for each year: Don’t worry about the league playoffs, or Districts, or scoring 20 goals, but instead pick some simple things on which to build. Skating speed, slap shots, giving and receiving body checks, defensive positioning, thinking about first and second options with the puck are all simple things that can be improved from game to game, and measured over the course of a season.

    I have no idea what transpired between the Penguin guano coating and last night’s Phantastic Philadelphia Phlogging, but it worked. Maybe it was the “get in shape” ride; maybe it was Sutter asserting that he’s in charge and half-efforts won’t be tolerated; maybe it was the re-emergence of Jamie Langenbrunner and Colin White at the rink. The turning point in last night’s game was simple enough: After the first Flyers power play goal, the Devils stepped it up instead of shrinking back into dump and chase mode. On both of Zubrus’ goals, he was clogging up the middle, in front of the crease, rather than attempting creativity from behind the net. Simple things. The defense looked good, moving the puck out of the defensive zone and forcing traffic in front by getting shots toward the net. I’ll miss Olli and Big Bird-like defensive qualities, but I have to admit Rachunek gave me reason to wave my Czech flag a bit.

    With the season just about at the one-fifth mark, there are many simple goals the Devils can set for the year. Making the playoffs should be first and foremost, most likely requiring 95 points to finish mid-conference. Doing so means tacking on 81 points from here, or about 1.2 points a game on average. That translates to roughly 35-21-11, technically close to 0.500 hockey if you count overtime losses and shoot out shoot downs the same as regulation dings. I’d love to see at least one line that terrifies opponents. Could be this congeals after Langenbrunner is back, could be that Madden and Pandolfo continue with some newly found help from the Lithuanian freight train. And finally, no further G-mez goals in the next six Hudson Summits.

    I’m a week late with additional Rock thoughts, and why I’m shocked at the behavior of Toronto fan boys, but the real world, and work, intervened.

    First Rock Impressions

    Went to my first game at the Rock last night, and all I can say is “wow.” This is a building meant for hockey, it’s a building that is a delight in which to see a game, and to enjoy yourself between periods of the game. The Devils christened it properly with a 6-1 drubbing of the Lightning. How else to summarize except to point out that Jay Pandolfo, the hardest working defensive winger in the NHL, recorded his first career hat trick tonight? It was a fitting conclusion, especially since the goal was originally credited to Vishnevski (and I was screaming “Cousin!! Cousin!!” from deep in Section 21), and I can only imagine what a collection of Halloween headgear would have accumulated on the ice. On the other hand, it’s the Devils’ new den, so some scary helmets are most appropriate.

    About the Rock:

    From the huge logo on the floor of the entry tower, to the three-times larger than life Patrik Elias, the high school and college jerseys dotting the concourse to the murals and bits of Devils history, it’s clear you’re in a hockey arena, and one that was designed by, for and about the Devils. The only other rink that gives me that feeling is Princeton University’s Baker Rink, because it’s not about the merchandising of the game but rather the game (and team) itself. I’m not going to mind walking 4 blocks in the freezing cold, even if it’s raining or snowing, knowing what’s ahead. There is simply no comparison to any other NHL rink, because this one isn’t shared with any other team. You know the feeling you get when you come home for Thanksgiving? Imagine that 41 times a season.

    Some of our ticket group buddies who went opening night told pre-Halloween horror stories about getting in and out of Newark due to construction, congestion and confusion. Using the Prudential Center parking maps off of the Devils web site, coupled with a little Googling, we were fine. The trick is to stay off of Route 21 and use Broad, Market and Raymond. Coming in off of I-280 East, take the 1st Street exit and avoid the entire Stickle Bridge construction mishegas.

    Total time from Livingston to Green lot: 20 minutes. From lot to seats: 10 minutes, down a very well lit Mulberry Street. From lot back to Livingston: 25 minutes. It sometimes took that long to get out of the parking lot at Giants stadium, after waiting and standing on a bus for 10 minutes. The police were helpful, the parking lot attendants gave reasonable directions, and it was a much better travel experience than I had expected. Leaving the arena, going north on Broad Street, the police metered the traffic out of the lots, the side streets and into the 4 travel lanes on Broad to avoid backups. Cont-izod-al Arena traffic control had 25 years to work this out, and failed.

    The only negative of the night (besides Oduya, but I’m foreshadowing): check out Section 118. I took that picture near the end of the first period, and there were literally five people in the entire mid-tier section. The announced attendance stood a bit north of 13,000; the capacity is over 17,000. Sure, it was Halloween, and the Devils have yet to start truly carving out their own piece of the Rock, but I’ll bet there were scantily over 17,000 butt cheeks in seats tonight. Lou must get more local support — not just $10 student tickets, but filling up the upper and end sections at a good price. If you didn’t have fun last night, you definitely were a zombie (or Tampa Bay’s Holmqvist).

    About the team:

    Tonight’s game was the equivalent of a coyote (one Mad Dog) pissing all over to mark its turf. The Rock has seen its first win, first hat trick, and first game by a blueliner taller than half of the Nets backcourt. I think Martin St. Louis had trouble seeing over Malmivaara’s jockstrap. We were eager to remind him of this, repeating a line from the opening sequence of “Slap Shot” perhaps a few too many times. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to hear Chico on the broadcast having a party with Olli’s pronounciation. But give the big guy his props: He may skate like Zdeno Chara, but he plays “D” like the big Bear as well, and was +2 on the night. Despite crashing into Marty while swinging the puck behind the net, he had a good opening night.

    Oduya needs to work harder and just simplify his game. Standing and swinging his stick while Richards controlled the puck on the power play was the genesis of the Tampa goal: play the puck, play the body, or take away the passing lane. Can’t do all three, or try to do them, or change your mind part way through: you give up control and Richards feeds LeCavaLier (I’m going to mess up the capitalization of his name just to piss him off, Johnny Most style).

    Vishnevski played well. Used the body, controlled the puck, and uncorked a bullet from the point. Even if we’re not related, he’s cool. Overall, the defense seemed to have a much better sense of where to be, and where to be going, especially in getting the puck out of the defensive zone.

    Most improved award: Zubrus. He controlled the puck with his size, since he has little speed. Instead of getting caught behind the net and turning the puck over, he bulled through, finding Madden for a nice goal which Zubrus essentially manufactured out of hard work and tenacity.

    On top of everything else, Brodeur looked very good — solid glove work, rolling over to block the upper part of the net when down on the ice, great lateral movement.

    Supposedly the Devils ran head to head sprints in practice. Here’s my take on how the bottom of the order worked out:
    1. Malmivaara. Number of letters in his jersey and overall wind resistance slow him down.
    2. Brookbank. Slow but thoughtful. If he was in your English class you’d love when the teacher called on him, because he’d spend the rest of the period saying something surface-level deep, but articulated so slowly the bell rang before you realized he hadn’t read the book either.
    3. Me, going at full speed with no possibility of stopping, after a good 8 or 9 stroke acceleration. And I’m the one the Friday night gang nicknamed “Slow White.”
    4. The Oreo mascot, who sometimes gets to play in the “all mascot” halftime game at Princeton University basketball games. Unfortunately, he has no mascot arms, limiting his ability to play offense or balance on skates.
    5. Zubrus. He’s that slow, but if he’s going to play positional hockey, use his size and his head, he can plod to his heart’s content, and I’ll even give him my spot in the speed rankings. He earned it.

    Size Up The Middle

    I got to catch about half of last nights Rangers-Devils pre-season game; even given modern technology I had to put the game on DVR and get to synagogue live. I missed Weekes getting hurt, and the first two Rangers goals, but what I saw after that gave me hope and a bit of a smile. Realizing that pre-season games in the NHL mean even less than they do in the NFL, I try not to read too much into events. But there were bright spots last night (other than the over/under on the rabbi’s annual list-making coming in at 6 and not 8 items)

    Vishnevski is a big boy. Bad news: bloggers will have to learn to spell his surname. Good news: it’s because he’ll be dumping smaller centers and wingers on their highly efficient Reebok-reinforced rear ends. My wife’s family’s name was Vishnevski before someone on Ellis Island truncated it, and both #2 on the Devils and #1 in our house come from the same part of the Ukraine. So I’ve taken to calling Vishnevski “cousin”, lending a distinctly Perfect Strangers air to my in-game ranting. Even if we’re not related, I’m going to cheer for him. Loudly.

    Zubrus is a bigger boy. Hello, forecheck. Last season I could have counted the number of times the Devils made the extra effort to hold the puck in the attack zone on one plate of Meadowlands chicken fingers; last night they were a forecheck on fire. Zubrus in particular just controlled the flow. It’s not just that Rafalksi and Gomez weren’t making bad, blind passes or failing to keep their sticks down; it was intentional, positional hockey at its best.

    Gionta could score from the press box. Yeah, it was against the number three or four goalie, and yeah, it was late in the third period, but what a goal. Valiquette wasn’t faked out of his jock; he didn’t know anything had happened until there was that rocket’s red glare behind him. With some puck control (see above), Gio might break his own goal record this year.

    There are still some rough edges, like who plays in the third defensive pairing and where precisely Brylin will end up. My advice (such as it is) is to take Sergei off of the checking line, and replace him with someone with more size (Clarkson), and maybe match up Brylin with Parise and Zajac until Langenbrunner’s leg is glued back on. And of course, everything changes in tone once the Lowell Devils head back to Beantown and the season’s first roster is set. And I can’t wait.