Time to get out of the gates and take a look at what we got for a team that is normally a perennial contender for Lord Stanley's Cup. A new arena (The Prudential Center -- "The Rock") was a hope that the good times would spread to the new building. So far however, the product is uneven to say the least.
What you see above is a main key to the Devils success and that is small players providing traffic in front of the opposing goalie. Players like Brian Gionta and Zach Parise are vital cogs to the success of the team. When they create traffic and pressure...this team can play with the best of them. The problem is that hasn't happened often enough this season and is part of the reason why the Devils are around .500 so far.
The inconsistent play of the Devils has led to goal celebrations like this on their home ice. Memories of days gone by where home ice was hell on Earth to play at even if the arena was near half empty is gone. The New Jersey Devils have to play better at home and more consistent without feeling pressed. They do press and when they do too much....the away team is usually coming out victorious. That 3-4 record at home does not lie. This team must improve like it has on the road (3-1-1 in their last 5). The blueprint is there just like it has always been. Timely goal scoring, decent to solid defense and Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur is what makes this team tick. It is clear from the first 21 games that Brodeur has to be absolutely on top of his game for this team to get back to its normal contender status. They will live and die by the goalie. It has been the way and will be the way as long as Martin Brodeur plays. A more consistent offense and defense can't hurt but this is #30's team...and he has to show the form that he has in his last 2 games against the Flyers and Penguins. If he can, the Devils' inconsistency may just start to become a thing of the past.
Then there is this enigma.......Patrik Elias.
Truthfully, it is time for Patrik Elias to step up! Earn that blasted contract! 11 points in 21 games is downright turkey status...there are prospects right now who are easily doing better like Patrick Sharp of the Blackhawks. Zach Parise has basically become the offensive leader of this team because he works 110% every single night and sometimes I just don't think Elias has that kind of effort in him. Then there are other times where he just over presses to the point where he causes his defense to suffer. I know during the Rangers game...Elias pressed individually and it cost the Devils a goal and several scoring chances. When the offense doesn't play as a cohesive unit, it puts an undeniable strain on the defense.
The Devils defense is just not that great but it is better when Colin White and Paul Martin are on the ice. Players like Oduya and Rachunek just have not worked out really all that well...and they have to step up their play or up and comers like Mottau will replace them. If White and Martin come back healthy and playing well, the Devils can definitely put this quarter of the season behind them as they did two years ago. Though this is not quite like deja vu...the last two games make me wonder if it is getting close.
Sooo...here are the grades for the first marking period...err quarter....
- Offense (C) -- ZZ Pop, Madden, Pandolfo then ?????
- Defense (D+) -- System oriented but too many mistakes.
- Goaltending (B-) -- Improving however in last 2 weeks.
- Overall (C) -- Right around .500 so it fits.
If the improved play continues...maybe just maybe the playoffs are just right around the corner for the Devils. If not, this could be a long first season at The Rock.