Devils Winning at Home, Cammalleri Coming on Strong

About two weeks ago, it looked as if a loss against the first-place overall in the NHL Nashville Predators had doomed the Devils chances of claiming a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now, four games into a season-high six game homestand, the Devils have won all four and are now only eight points out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Looking at their four wins over the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes and a shutout win versus the Arizona Coyotes, shows that the Devils have been winning the tight ones (2-1 shootout win against Buffalo), the wild ones (4-2 against Vancouver that featured a crazy ending) and the ones they pretty much had a handle on from the get go (3-1 against the ‘Canes and the aforementioned 3-0 game against Arizona).

To round out the month of February, the Devils will see the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins at home and then follow the Friday night game against Boston with a 5PM day game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. This will be a great test for New Jersey as Calgary is in a good position to make the playoffs in the Western Conference and Boston is the team that the Devils need to catch to gain the final spot in the Eastern Conference. Follow that up with the game against Columbus, a day game after a night game, and you have a real test for the Devils here as the month comes to a close.

One of the guys who has been helping the Devils in this four game winning streak (the first such Devils streak in about two years) is Mike Cammalleri. After being kept off of the scoresheet against Buffalo, the Devils left wing had a power play goal and an empty netter against Vancouver, an assist on Andy Greene’s first goal of the year against Carolina and an even strength goal and an empty netter against Arizona. With two two goal games and five total points in these four games, Cammalleri, who leads the team with 22 goals this year, has been everything the Devils had hoped for when they signed him away from Calgary last summer.

Cammalleri will hope to continue his scoring ways against his former team on Wednesday, as the Devils hit a rough patch in their schedule. The team will play every other day (save the Boston/Columbus back-to-back) for roughly the next two weeks. Days off will be hard to come by from the end of February through March. Thankfully for the Devils, the rest of that schedule is home-heavy due to them playing almost exclusively on the road to begin the year. The Devils have been playing extremely well at home lately, going 8-1-1 in their last ten games at the Rock. The only really tough part for the Devils will be the week of March 9th when they make one final western swing, hitting Minnesota, Colorado and the Coyotes and then follow that up with a home game that next Tuesday against the always-tough Penguins.

Hopefully come the game against Pittsburgh, the Devils will still be in the playoff race and will have made some headroom there as well. The Devils have made things hard for themselves, let’s face it. They are pretty much in “must win” mode every game. But it is not entirely impossible as it stands now. The game against Boston will be a true test for New Jersey, but they cannot overlook a Flames team that has been surprising all season. If they can avoid the perils of that “trap game,” the game versus the Bruins should mean a little bit more on Friday.

The Devils are not entirely in the clear, of course. They do have to get some help from the teams they are directly competing with for that final wild card spot (the Flyers and Panthers) but they do have the game against Philly coming up next week and can gain ground on the teams. All they need is to keep playing the way they have at home, make sure they do not leave points on the table on the road and continue to get scoring from guys like Cammalleri – the guys who should be putting pucks in the net – and maybe from some other unlikely places (like Andy Greene) and everything will fall into place for the team.

Neal Broten: The Final Piece of the 1995 Puzzle

Neal Broten will be known as many things in his hockey career. He was a member of the 1979 University of Minnesota team that won the NCAA national championship (he would score the goal that clinched the title for the Golden Gophers). He was a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” US men’s hockey team that won the gold medal in Lake Placid, New York. He was also a member of the 1995 New Jersey Devils – the final piece of a puzzle that would result in the Devils winning the Stanley Cup.

Although he is arguably best known as a Minnesota North Star, Broten had a career in hockey that most players could only dream of. Born in Roseau, Minnesota on November 29, 1959, he played his high school hockey for the Roseau Rams, leading the team to the Minnesota state tournament for three straight years from 1977 to 1979. In 1978, he set a Roseau High School record that still stands when he scored four assists in one period.

Playing at the University of Minnesota under head coach Herb Brooks (who also coached the Devils for a single season in 1992-93 and was the coach of Team USA at the 1980 Olympics), Broten had a freshman year that saw him score 71 points (21 goals, 50 assists) and be named WCHA Rookie of the Year. He also won the NCAA Championship that season as the Golden Gophers beat the University of North Dakota 4-3 in the final. In his junior season, 1980-81, Broten won the inaugural Hobey Baker Award – given to the best US college player each season. This win makes him the only player in hockey history to have won an NCAA Championship, the Hobey Baker Award, an Olympic gold medal and the Stanley Cup. Broten and Ed Belfour are the only players to have won an NCAA Championship, an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup.

Ask the average American hockey fan what Neal Broten is best known for and they would probably tell you “the Miracle on Ice.” Although he also represented Team USA at the 1981 and 1984 Canada Cups and the 1990 World Championships, it is that one tournament in Lake Placid that best defined his international career. Although he only scored three points (two goals and one assist) in seven games, Broten was a key part of Team USA’s emotional win over the Soviet Union in the semifinals and over Finland in the gold medal game.

He was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in the 2nd round (42nd overall) in 1979 – the North Stars gained the pick through a draft day trade that saw Dave Semenko head to the Oilers (Semenko would fill the role of Wayne Gretzky’s “bodyguard” in Edmonton pre-Marty McSorley – which is ironic since one of Gretzky’s only NHL fights came against Neal Broten in 1982-83). He would suit up for Minnesota in 1980-81 and would stay with the team through relocation to Dallas until 1995. Along the way, he would become the first American born and trained NHL player to score more than 100 points in a single season (netting 105 in 1985-86).

Meanwhile, the Devils were coming off a rough loss in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final to the Rangers and were looking for a way to get over the hump in the lockout shortened 1995 season. The team was struggling early on (starting the season hovering just around .500) when, on February 27, 1995, general manager Lou Lamoriello sent Corey Millen to the Dallas Stars for their captain at the time, Neal Broten (whose brother, Aaron, had been a mainstay from the late days of the Colorado Rockies through the Devils first decade or so in New Jersey). Broten would go on to play 30 games for the Devils that regular season; scoring 8 goals and 20 assists for 28 points. Though he was a scoring threat, he was also responsible defensively, as evidenced by his plus-9 rating.

But it was the playoffs where the acquisition of Broten really showed its true greatness. He played 20 games for the Devils that postseason, scoring 19 points (7 goals and 12 helpers) and, again, was a plus-13 (which tied him for the team lead with defenseman Bruce Driver – also a plus-13). He scored one of the biggest goals of his NHL career in game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit when he beat goalie Mike Vernon on a pass from Scott Niedermayer for what would go on to be the Stanley Cup clinching goal for the Devils. The goal, which was Broten’s second of that game, would mark the first time that an American had scored a Cup clincher for an NHL team. It would go on to be repeated by the likes of Brett Hull, Patrick Kane, Alec Martinez and Mike Rupp (who also performed the feat for the Devils in 2003).

The Devils and Broten would eventually part ways when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on November 22, 1996 for future considerations. The following year he would be claimed on waivers by Dallas from the Kings to get him back to where it all started. He retired following the 1996-97 season after finishing with an NHL total of 1,099 games played, 289 goals, 634 assists, 923 points and career plus/minus of plus-18, and 569 penalty minutes. He was also voted to two All-Star games (1983 and 1986). His number 7 is retired by the Dallas Stars and he is also a member of the US Hockey Hall of Fame. In 2009, fans of the Minnesota Wild voted him the greatest hockey player from the state of Minnesota.

As stated in a recent profile on a Devils MSG+ broadcast, Neal Broten was a key for New Jersey in 1995. To paraphrase Ken Daneyko on that piece: “Without Neal Broten, we probably don’t make the playoffs or win the Stanley Cup.” Neal Broten was the missing piece of the puzzle that put the Devils over the top as Stanley Cup champions and someone who will forever be known as a great in the annals of Devils history.

How Will the Devils Approach the Trading Deadline?

The NHL trade deadline is fast approaching (it comes on March 2 at 3 PM). The Devils have some cards to play. The only question is how will they play those cards? Will they trade off some of the older parts of the roster to make room for a younger group of players who are itching for ice time? Or will they use those parts to pick up a piece to help them make a run at the playoffs?

Some of the main names that have come up in trade discussions have been right wing Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Marek Zidlicky. On a recent Devils MSG+ broadcast, Stan Fischler brought up the possibility of Jagr being traded by the Devils and Zidlicky came up in a article and was reported on by John MacLean mentioned on the MSG+ telecast that Jagr might be reluctant to move since he has been getting a lot of ice time with the Devils and that, at this point in his career, is really all he wants. The thing is, Jagr has gone through a mini-revitalization of his career with New Jersey and if a team feels he can put them over the top to become a contender, if he is the missing piece for a team looking to win a Stanley Cup, then Jagr will get traded.

Zidlicky is in a similar boat. If he can help a team go over the top and win a championship, then he will be packaged. Zidlicky does have a no-trade clause, but like he said in the report, “it’s not just about yourself” and he does understand that the Devils will make the deal if they can improve the team.

The question now becomes: what do the Devils want to do at this deadline? How do they want to make the team better? Are they building towards a future, or are they going to make a run for the playoffs this year? The main factor in that, I would assume, would be where they are in the standings at the trade deadline. If they are still in contention for a playoff spot (and not that far out) come deadline time, then they will look to make their run by acquiring a piece that can get them in and get them a lengthy playoff run this season. If they are further out than they are at this point by then, they will look to unload salary and start to get the younger guys some playing time.

The Devils have one of, if not THE oldest rosters in the NHL and they do want to get younger. They can pick up some draft picks with what they have too. In addition to Jagr and Zidlicky, the Devils could look to move a guys like Michael Ryder, who has had difficulty fitting into the Devils system and might benefit from a change of scenery.

New Jersey does have a good core for the future: they are solid in goal, with a very good NHL-caliber goalie (Cory Schneider), a young goaltender with some NHL experience who makes a reliable backup (Keith Kinkaid) and a fine third, should injury arise, waiting in Albany who is young and just needs some time in the NHL to get over the threshold (Scott Wedgewood). From there, the defensive core is good with Andy Greene anchoring things back there and mentoring the youngsters. Trading Zidlicky would lose some of that offensive threat on the blueline and take away their power play quarterback, but once healthy, Damon Severson could fit that role nicely, as he showed signs of it early in the season. The forwards are a little bit long in the tooth, but the amount of proven talent that they have gives the Devils some bargaining power to make a deal.

Some of the moves already made ahead of the deadline, like Evander Kane going to Buffalo for Tyler Myers, who is now a Winnipeg Jet and the major one, the Toronto Maple Leafs starting their rebuilding process by sending Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Predators (thankfully after Nashville had already defeated the Devils 3-1 on Saturday night), have set some precedent already. It seems like the teams like Nashville who are in contention are making a serious killing on the weak teams. But in reality, this happens every year. The real question is how will other contenders and bubble teams respond? Also, where do the Devils fit in in all of this? Are they real playoff contenders or has the season come crashing down they are they just looking to unload and begin rebuilding ala Toronto?

Time will tell in regards to all of these questions. General Manager Lou Lamoriello will make the deals necessary for the team to get better, be it this year or in the coming years. The Devils are at a crossroads. They have not made the playoffs since the 2012 Stanley Cup run and are fading fast this year. How they handle the deals they make this year could decide whether the team continues southward or rises back to glory in the years to come.

Two Rough Losses Could Doom Devils Playoff Hopes

It was a tale of two weeks for the New Jersey Devils. They had continued their hot streak from the California swing from before the All-Star break, coming out of the hiatus with a shootout win over Toronto to kick-off a five game homestand. Though they followed the win over the Maple Leafs with an overtime loss to the Penguins, they followed that up with wins over the Panthers, Senators and the Leafs again.

Then they hit a buzzsaw in the form of the Montreal Canadiens. Understandably, it was a tough game and the Devils fell, 6-2 to one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Then, on Monday, February 9, the lowly Edmonton Oilers came into Prudential Center, in last place in the Western Conference and only ahead of Buffalo in the overall NHL standings, and they promptly defeated the Devils, 2-1.

These back-to-back losses will surely put a dent into the Devils playoff hopes, as they need to get two points off of teams like Edmonton if they are going to succeed in making a run of it. Plus, their next two games, on the road on Friday the 13th in Chicago to take on the Blackhawks and a Valentine’s date with the Predators in Nashville, are not exactly against pushovers.

It seems like two different Devils teams who showed up to play against the Maple Leafs, Penguins, Panthers and Senators than team who went into Montreal. Though the Devils did lead 1-0 early on in the game against the Habs, it was bad penalties that cost the team, as Montreal ended up converting on the power play to both tie the game and take the lead that they would never relinquish. Montreal actually scored their first three goals on the power play (Dainius Zubrus had taken a four minute double minor for high sticking P.K. Subban, which drew blood, to set up the tying and go ahead goals and Travis Zajac’s cross checking penalty yielded a third goal from Tomas Plekanec). The same thing generally repeated against Edmonton, as Nail Yakupov would score the game winner on the power play (an Adam Larsson delay of game penalty).

Now, the Canadiens are a very talented team, Subban had three assists in the game; Plekanec had two goals; Dale Weise had two goals; Max Pacioretty had two assists and David Desharnais had three assists in the Montreal offensive avalanche. The Devils simply could not keep up once Montreal got going. But Edmonton? Though they are a very young and offensively talented group, they have never really clicked and should have been no threat to the Devils (if the Devils are really a playoff team).

It is still early and a lot can happen between now and April 11 (the final day of the regular season), but the fact may be that this team is just not that good as they are built right now. Hopefully, I am wrong, but some moves will need to be made come the summer.

The way it looks (and I am certainly on the outside looking in here), but the first to go might just be Michael Ryder. He has been a healthy scratch for the last week or so after what has been an awful season for him. He is a good player who still has some mileage left, if the Devils were to unload him to a contender, maybe they could get a draft pick for him and that would allow the team to begin building through the draft. What could also happen is that the Devils buyout Ryder’s contract come the offseason and he goes elsewhere without any compensation for the Devils. Although it would free up some cap space, it would be nice to get something for a player that has not really been a great fit for the Devils throughout his time here.

The conventional wisdom is that Devils fans would never tolerate a rebuilding phase. But should it return the team to its former glory (meaning making the playoffs and making deep runs in the playoffs), I think the fans would be all for it.

It is hard for the Devils to attract big name free agents and that is not how the championship teams of the past were built anyway. The Islanders are a great recent example of a team building a contender through shrewd drafting and moving the pieces around the chess board. New York was a decimated franchise a few short seasons ago and is now in a battle at the top of the Metropolitan Division.

New Jersey’s championship teams were built with a core of homegrown talent taken through the draft (guys like Marty Brodeur, John MacLean, Ken Daneyko, Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez), timely trades (players like Alexander Mogilny, Joe Nieuwendyk and Neal Broten), trades looking at the long term (think Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer from the 1995 team) and key free agents (Scott Stevens).

Even their last team to head to the Cup Finals in 2012 was built in a similar way: a core of draft picks (Zach Parise), and guys like Ilya Kovalchuk (who they originally got in a trade from the Atlanta Thrashers and then re-signed when he became an unrestricted free agent). Throw in some undrafed gems on those championship teams through the years like David Clarkson, Jay Pandolfo and Andy Greene and you get the Devils’ recipe for success.

This team could be great again, it just takes a little bit of patience from fans and getting back to the basics of what made the team a top contender for the Stanley Cup for so many years. The team has a good core to build upon now: goaltending is taken care of with guys like Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid between the pipes, Andy Greene (the next possible Devils captain according to Daneyko – once Bryce Salvador leaves the team) has the defense anchored along with young guys like Larsson and Jon Merrill and Adam Henrique is a good young forward and a bright spot in an otherwise aging group.

Overall, the Devils do need to get younger and I think they will. The draft and finding young guys outside the draft will play a big role in the Devils future. Albany also has some guys waiting in the wings who can help the team where it needs it the most: scoring.

Although time seems to have run out on the Devils 2014-15 season, it does not mean that this is a franchise that has a bleak future. On the contrary, this is a team that can have a great future, it just needs to embrace it.

Devils to Honor ’95 Cup Champs in March

The Devils are set to honor their 1995 Stanley Cup Championship team with festivities surrounding the March 8, 2015 game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The team will bring back former players and coaches associated with the team’s first Stanley Cup championship.

The Devils went into the lockout shortened 1995 season with huge expectations. They had taken the previous year’s Stanley Cup champions, the New York Rangers to the limit in the 1994 playoffs, losing in double overtime of game seven in a classic series. However, the Devils would qualify for the 1995 playoffs as the number five seed and take on the number four seed, the Boston Bruins. The Eastern Conference would also see the number one seed Quebec Nordiques take on the eighth seeded Rangers in the Nordiques’ final playoff series in Quebec City (they would move to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche that off season); the second seeded Philadelphia Flyers versus the seventh seeded Buffalo Sabres and the third seed, the Pittsburgh Penguins against the sixth seeded Washington Capitals.

Martin Brodeur and the Devils kicked off the playoffs right, shutting out the Bruins 5-0 in game one and 3-0 in game two at the Boston Garden. On the return to the Meadowlands, the Bruins pulled out a 3-2 win. Randy McKay would score game four’s only goal in overtime as the Devils would take a three games to one series lead heading back to Boston. That goal would yield one of the most famous celebrations in Stanley Cup playoff history: McKay climbing the glass of the Brendan Byrne Arena rink while his teammates swarmed around him. Game five on May 14, 1995 would be the final hockey game played in the Boston Garden, as the Devils wrapped up the series with a 3-2 win.

Meanwhile, the Devils second round opponents, the Penguins were busy with Washington, eventually prevailing in seven games. The Caps had actually had three games to one lead in this series with Pittsburgh on the ropes in game five. The Pens won that game at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in overtime, 6-5 and never looked back, winning the final two games of the series in a thrilling comeback.

The well-rested Devils got off to a slow start, dropping game one to the Penguins at Civic Arena, 3-2. From there, they took over completely: winning game two 4-2, game three (back at the Meadowlands Arena) 5-1, game four 2-1 in overtime and game five 4-1. It was on to the conference finals for the third time in franchise history.

The Devils’ opponents in their second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals would the Flyers who had dispatched the Sabres four games to one and swept the Rangers in the second round. Although this was the first time these two teams had faced each other as geographical rivals, it was actually the second time the franchises had faced off in the playoffs. The Flyers had defeated the Colorado Rockies in the 1978 preliminary round, sweeping the best of three series in two games.

The series opened up on June 3, 1995 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia with the Devils pulling out a 4-1 win. They then took game two in Philly 5-2 and it was back to the Meadowlands with an eye towards a sweep. That was not to be, however, as the Flyers spoiled the party, winning 3-2 in overtime in game three when Eric Lindros scored at 4:19 of the extra period. Philly then took game four 4-2 to tie up the series as they headed back down the Turnpike to The Spectrum. Game five would see the Devils win 3-2 on the famous goal by Claude Lemieux, on the rush, beating Ron Hextall just under his blocker with less than a minute left in the game. Game seven back in New Jersey on June 13 saw the Devils wrap things up with a 4-2 win, sending the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history to face the Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings.

The top-seeded Wings had defeated the Dallas Stars four games to one, had swept the San Jose Sharks and had beaten the Chicago Blackhawks four games to one to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1966.

The championship series opened on Saturday, June 17, 1995 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit with the Devils grabbing a quick 1-0 series lead, winning the game 2-1. Stephane Richer scored the first Stanley Cup Final goal in franchise history when he scored at 9:41 of the second. Dino Ciccarelli tied things up for Detroit at 13:08. Lemieux got the game winner at 3:17 of the third.

Game two, played on Tuesday, June 20, saw the Devils take a 2-0 series lead with a 4-2 win. This game was notable in Devils lore for two reasons: Scott Stevens’ bone-crushing bodycheck on Vyacheslav Kozlov (the “You’re next!” hit) and Scott Niedermayer’s end-to-end rush, scoring on his own rebound off the end-boards on goaltender Mike Vernon. The game winner would actually come off the stick of Brick, New Jersey native Jim Dowd. The Devils were heading home for the second straight series with a commanding two games to none lead. This win was also the team’s record-breaking tenth playoff win on the road in 1995.

Game three took place on Thursday, June 22 in East Rutherford. The Devils would win this game 5-2 The Devils broke out to a commanding 5-0 lead, getting goals from Bruce Driver, Lemieux, Neal Broten, McKay and Bobby Holik. The Red Wings would add power play goals by superstars Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman, but the Devils were now on the verge of their first Stanley Cup with a three games to none lead.

Game four was played on Saturday, June 24 as Neal Broten got the scoring started, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead just over one minute into the game. Fedorov tied things up about a minute later and Paul Coffey game the Wings the lead with a shorthanded goal at 13:01. From there, however, it was all Devils. Shawn Chambers tied things up at two late in the first, then Broten would score what would go on to be the Cup-clinching goal early in the second period, giving the Devils the 3-2 lead. The last two goals of the game came from Sergei Brylin and Chambers (who, like Broten, had two in the game). Claude Lemieux was named playoff MVP as he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Devils had won their first Stanley Cup when Mike Emrick made the call on Fox: “The championship to New Jersey, the Devils win the Stanley Cup!”

Now, twenty years later, the Devils are scheduled to pay tribute to this great team. The 1995 team will be honored during the March 8 game versus Philly (one of four teams the Devils beat en route to their first championship), puckdrop for that game is 5PM. It should be a very festive and historic evening as the Devils look to their past and honor the team that helped kick off the most successful period in the team’s history.

The End of an Era: Martin Brodeur Retires

After 691 wins and 125 shutouts in 1,266 career games, Martin Brodeur is hanging up his skates for the last time. He will announce his retirement this Thursday and take a front office position with the St. Louis Blues according to several sources.

I do not want to just post a bunch of stats here. I feel that this post should be a lot more personal than that. Marty Brodeur meant too much to Devils fans and the organization to reduce him down to simply numbers. Marty is one of the all-time best, any hockey fan worth their salt can tell you that. But he also meant so much more. He was the face of the New Jersey Devils for years. A team that had no identity when it was in Kansas City, Denver or even for much of its early time in East Rutherford suddenly had a phenomenon on their hands when Marty came up and took over the starting goaltender spot in the 1993-94 season, he won the Calder Trophy that year as NHL rookie of the year. That year was a magical one. The Devils best year to that date and the emergence of this great superstar goalie that would eventually lead the team to the promised-land three times. Even the game 7 Eastern Conference Final loss to the Rangers could not dampen what that season meant to the New Jersey Devils. The fact that they came back the following year and won the Stanley Cup made things a little bit better, though.

Marty is a three time Stanley Cup champion, he is a four time Vezina Trophy winner. But more importantly, he put the Devils on the map. Suddenly, fans in the hockey hotbed of Quebec were not growing up fans of the legendary Montreal Canadiens. Many kids in that hockey-mad Canadian province, where the sport is almost a religion, grew up fans of Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. Aspiring NHL goaltenders like the Devils own Keith Kinkaid grew up worshipping this man. The stories are the same everywhere. I, personally, feel blessed to have gotten to see the man play live and on television countless times over the last 20-plus years. I was a Devils fan prior to Marty’s emergence, but he cemented it for me. Martin Brodeur is a legend. Period. (Not that anyone would argue any differently. I have seen Ranger fans come out to pay their respects to this man’s career across the Internet. Honest to God Ranger fans.)

What Martin Brodeur has meant (and will mean in the future) to this franchise is immeasurable. Sure, the numbers are great and they make up part of (if not most of) the story. But those intangibles: his cool-under-pressure attitude, his ability to handle the puck like a third defenseman and his leadership qualities in the locker room are also part of the story.

Martin Brodeur is part of my story. And if you are a Devils fan, most likely he is a part of yours too. Lou Lamoriello has said that Marty will always be a Devil and will, most likely, return to the Devils in some capacity next season. By this time next year, his number “30” will likely be hanging from the rafters of Prudential Center. It will be a great night and one that I am very much looking forward to. But Martin Brodeur will always be more than a number. He will forever be a legend. Respected by all, no matter your NHL affiliation or rooting interest and embraced by those who love the New Jersey Devils.

All-Star Game Features Many Thrills, Records

The NHL All-Star Game last Sunday, January 25 from the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio was not kind to the goaltenders, that is for sure.

In the end, the game featured a total of 29 goals, with the final score being Team Toews 17 and Team Foligno 12. The teams, with the visitors captained by Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and coached by Peter Laviolette of the Nashville Predators and Nick Foligno of the host Columbus Blue Jackets captaining the home team, who were coached by Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings, broke the NHL record for combined goals in an All-Star Game.

Before that, though, there was the NHL Skills Competition on Saturday, in which the Devils’ Patrik Elias (the only representative from New Jersey) competed in the shot accuracy contest as a passer for Team Toews, to which he had been drafted in the 12th round in the All-Star Draft the night before. Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks and Team Foligno took the crown in that competition. Other events from the Skills Competition included: Fastest Skater (won by Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning), the Breakaway Challenge (won by Ryan Johansen of the Blue Jackets), the Skills Challenge Relay (Team Foligno won the first relay, Team Toews the second), the Hardest Shot Competition (won by Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators) and the Shootout (won by Team Foligno). Team Foligno won the overall competition by a score of 25 to 19. These festivities led into the 60th NHL All-Star Game played on Sunday.

And what a game it was if you are a fan of goals. Goalies everywhere were cringing as Radim Vrbata of the Vancouver Canucks and Team Foligno got things underway, scoring on a breakaway at 3:09 of the first. Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Team Toews evened things up at 6:33. Jakub Voracek of the Flyers gave Team Toews the lead on the first of his hat trick at 9:51. Other scoring in the first saw hometown heroes Johansen and Foligno team up along with Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues to tie things up at 11:05. Things went back-and-forth again as Patrice Bergeron of Boston Bruins gave Team Toews the lead again (former Bruin and current Dallas Star-Tyler Seguin and Elias got the assists) at 12:17. Shattenkirk tied things up again for Team Foligno at 14:48 and Johansen gave Foligno’s team the lead at 16:24. At 19:03, right before the intermission, however, John Tavares of the Islanders tied the game back up for Team Toews. The goalies for the first period were the Florida Panthers’ Roberto Luongo for Team Toews and Brian Elliott of the Blues (who was subbing for injured Sergei Bobrovsky) for Team Foligno.

The second period scoring started off right away at 0:24 into the second stanza when Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild scored for Team Toews. Less than 20 seconds later, Claude Giroux of the Flyers got one back for Team Foligno. Toews’ team tied things again when Seguin scored at 1:22. Steven Stamkos of the Lightning connected from the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith to move Team Foligno ahead at 2:27. At 4:08, Rick Nash of the Rangers scored for Team Toews. Patrik Elias picked up his second assist when he got the secondary on Filip Forsberg (of the Predators – subbing for Evgeni Malkin who was hurt) goal at 5:56. New Jersey native and NHL rookie Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames got the primary assist on that goal. Gaudreau was a replacement in the game for the injured Sidney Crosby who could not participate. At 8:16 Tavares scored for Team Toews and at 9:22, Voracek got his second also for Team Toews. Nick Foligno helped his own team’s cause by scoring at 11:59 with Johansen and the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin assisting. Stamkos got his second of the game at 16:35 on an assist from New Jersey native Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators. Tavares got his hat trick to finish out the scoring at 19:00 of the second on an assist from Bergeron (his third assist of the night). The unfortunate goalies for the second period were: the Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak (Team Toews) and the Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury (Team Foligno). Halak was a sub for the injured Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and Fleury was a sub for the injured Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings.

The third period scoring got underway when Nash scored at 1:29 for Team Toews. Goal 21 of the night came at 2:15 when Kane scored from Giroux and the Kings’ Drew Doughty. Tavares got his fourth of the night at 6:13 as Bergeron got his fourth assist (the primary) and Brent Seabrook of the Blackhawks had the secondary. At 7:30, Voracek got his hat trick and Jonathan Toews had his fourth assist along with Aaron Ekblad of the Panthers (who also netted his fourth assist of the game on that goal). Ekblad was subbing for Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche who was out with a lower-body injury. The next milestone came at the 8:23 marker when Ryan scored. Seguin got his second at 9:26 off assists from Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues (his fourth of the game) and Shea Weber. Kane scored again at 13:09. While his Blackhawks teammate (but opponent on this night) Toews scored his first goal of the game at 14:21. Forsberg scored for Team Toews at 16:40 as Gaudreau got his second assist of the night and Voracek got his third assist and sixth point on the night. Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks rounded up the crazy night when he scored at 18:20. Ovechkin had his third assist on this goal while Johansen had his second. Netminders for the third period were Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks (Team Toews) and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens (Team Foligno).

On the night, Team Toews’ Crawford got the win in goal, while Team Foligno’s Fleury took the loss. Columbus Blue Jacket and Team Foligno member Ryan Johansen with four points (two goals and two assists) was named All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in online voting by the fans.

Overall, nine offensive records were set in this game including: most goals by a team (Team Toews, 17), most goals, combined, in a single period (11), most goals in a single period by one team (Team Toews, 7), most goals by a player (John Tavares’ four – tying him with Wayne Gretzky (1983), Mario Lemieux (1990), Vincent Damphousse (1993), Mike Gartner (1991) and Dany Heatley (2003)) and most points by one player (Jakub Voracek’s 6 – tying him with Mario Lemieux). Every skater on Toews’ team got on the scoresheet at least once. If you love goals, this game had it in bunches, as it was not a tight checking defensive struggle. But it was entertaining and that, after all, is what an All-Star Game should be.

Devils Forge Successful California Trip

The Devils have had a rough season so far. Having played the most road games in the NHL at this point in the season, the team has not had a lot of time at home. That continued as the Devils spent the last week on a California road trip, hitting Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose. In the end, the trip was a success for the Devils, having taken two of three games, and they head into the All-Star break on a high note.

On Wednesday, January 14, the Devils visited the home of their opponents in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals and this year’s defending Cup champs, the Los Angeles Kings. The Devils opened the scoring at the Staples Center when Steve Bernier scored on the power play with about 54 seconds left in the first period with assists to Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez. Early in the second, Dustin Brown got the Kings on the board to tie things with assists to Drew Doughty and Brayden McNabb. But about nine minutes later, Bernier would again strike on the power play (with assists to Gomez and Jon Merrill) to break the tie and from there, the Devils never looked back. At 9:20, Martin Havlat scored his fourth of the year from Devils 2015 All-Star representative Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac to make it 3-1. Mike Cammalleri scored at 10:05 (assists to Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus) to make it 4-1. Ryder then scored the Devils fourth straight unanswered goal exactly seven minutes later at 17:05 with assists to Andy Greene and Adam Larsson. The Kings made things interesting in the third when Marian Gaborik scored at 7:16 (from McNabb and Justin Williams) and Justin Williams scored at 19:02 (from Mike Richards) to finish out the scoring. The Devils won the game 5-3. Mark Fraser fought Jordan Nolan shortly after the Devils took the lead in the first to provide an extra spark to the team. On the strength of two power play goals by Steve Bernier, the Devils had dethroned the struggling Kings.

The Devils next traveled to Orange County to take on the league-leading Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on Friday, January 16. This game was a major letdown for the team and fans after the complete game played in LA two nights before. It was the second straight game in which the Devils faced an opponent that they had previously squared off with in the Stanley Cup Finals, this time rekindling the battle from 2003. Corey Perry got things started at 4:09 of the first period with assists to Cam Fowler and Patrick Maroon, which game the Ducks a 1-0 lead. The Devils would respond at 15:12, tying the game on a power play goal from Martin Havlat (assists to Elias and Marek Zidlicky) as the three Czechs combined to even the score. Unfortunately, that was it for the Devils that night. The Ducks took the lead at 3:16 of the second when Hampus Lindholm put one past Keith Kinkaid (who had come in to the game in the second after Cory Schneider took a shot to the mask that shook him up prior to the first goal of the game – the team held him out due to concussion precautions) on assists from Matt Beleskey and Rickard Rakell. That would go on to be the game winner, as the Devils never scored again. Anaheim scored three more unanswered from Jakob Silfverberg, Maroon and a power play goal from Silfverberg. The Devils limped out of Anaheim with a 5-1 loss. Another fight took place between Tim Sestito and Beleskey in the third, but failed to spark a Devils comeback.

On Monday, January 19, the Devils traveled to Northern California to take on the San Jose Sharks, who had spoiled the Devils opening night in October at Prudential Center, at the SAP Center. Would the team bounce back after the Anaheim blowout, or would they regain the form they showed in Los Angeles? Things looked pretty bad early on as prolific scoring Joe Pavelski notched his 23rd (off an assist from Joe Thornton) against the returning Schneider to make it 1-0 San Jose. The Devils would respond at 15:29 as Jordin Tootoo, who has been doing everything for the Devils lately, scored his fourth of the season from Sestito and the returning-from-illness Jacob Josefson, who was playing in his first game since right after Christmas. Steve Bernier would score another one (his third of the road trip) from Gomez late in the period to make it 2-1 Devils going into the first intermission. At 4:00 into the second, it seemed like the Sharks were back in it, as Matt Nieto scored (assists to Tyler Kennedy and Tomas Hertl) to tie the game at 2. Roughly ten minutes later, Cammalleri broke the tie with a power play goal from Adam Henrique and Gomez (who had a quietly good road trip). That ended up as the game winner, as the third period was all Devils. After killing off a 5-on-3 power play, Travis Zajac scored at 11:10 from Larsson and former Shark, Havlat. The scoring was rounded out as Josefson scored a short-handed goal at 14:32 while Zidlicky was serving a high sticking penalty (assists to Henrique and Merrill). The Devils had gotten out of San Jose (a notoriously tough building to play in – especially for the Devils, who had not won there since 2010) with a 5-2 win.

The Devils now enter the All-Star break with eight days off (the longest time off in the Eastern Conference, second in the NHL only to St. Louis). Some questions linger, though: will they build off of the positivity of the California trip to continue the momentum? Or will the eight days of inactivity hurt them? Patrik Elias, as noted, is their only team member going to Columbus, so the rest of the team will be off for more than a full week. How will this help or hurt the Devils chances at making a run for the playoffs? Their penalty kill has come back to meet Devil-like standards and their power play has been pretty consistent, if only ranked middle of the pack, so the special teams have really clicked for this team. Schneider (who was brilliant in the San Jose game), has been doing his job in goal, but needs goal support, which he does not always receive. Time will tell as the Devils head out of the All-Star break if this team can get hot and make a miracle run for the playoffs.

Meadowlands Arena to Close at End of January

As I am sitting here watching the Devils put a late night hurting on the LA Kings (it is 5-1 Devils as I begin writing here) at the start of their California road trip, something interesting came through After almost 34 years, the Izod Center is set to be shuttered at the end of the month.

Brent Johnson of reports that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has reached an agreement with the Prudential Center that would move all scheduled events from the arena in the Meadowlands Sports Complex to the arena in downtown Newark.

Of course this is relevant to Devils fans for the fact that the Izod Center (known as Brendan Byrne Arena from 1981 to 1996 and Continental Airlines Arena from 1996 to 2007) was the Devils home from 1982 to 2007 and was partly responsible for the Devils even existing in the Garden State to begin with.

When Arthur Imperatore, Sr. bought the Colorado Rockies in 1978, his intentions were to move the team east to play in the Meadowlands. Unfortunately, the arena was not completed yet and with no suitable NHL-sized rink available in the state, that move would have to wait another four years. It was then, in the spring of 1982 that former Houston Astros owner, former New York Yankees part-owner and Montclair, New Jersey native, Dr. John McMullen would buy the Rockies and move them into the newly-opened Meadowlands Arena. The arena had actually opened the previous summer with a series of sold out shows by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and hosted the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) of the National Basketball Association for a year. The arena would go on to host the 1982 NBA All-Star Game, the 1984 NHL All-Star Game, the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, the 1996 NCAA Men’s Final Four, the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, the 2002 NBA Finals, the 2003 NBA Finals and the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals in addition to thousands of other events over the years.

The arena was actually conceived by the NJSEA as a way to get the Rangers over the Hudson River (they were in a dispute with the Garden at the time and may have been looking to pull up stakes) to play in the Meadowlands. This was not something that was completely foreign at the time, as the New York Giants had moved to the Meadowlands in 1976 from Yankee Stadium to play in the newly-built Giants Stadium (the Jets would follow from Shea Stadium in 1984) and the Yankees were being courted to move from the Bronx should George Steinbrenner feel the need to alienate his hardcore fans and move from NYC.

But when the Devils and the Seton Hall Pirates men’s basketball team moved to Newark in 2007 and the Nets followed suit in 2010, the arena saw less and less events. Brent Johnson’s article mentions that competition from the Prudential Center, Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the newly-renovated Madison Square Garden in Manhattan to get events has made the aging arena obsolete and expensive for the state to keep open. The arena will remain standing, but closed for the next two years and then its future will be in doubt.

On a personal note, I have attended many events at the Byrne/Continental/Meadowlands/Izod Arena/Center (my first being Sesame Street Live in 1985 when I was three or four years old); including my first Devils game in 1991 against the Buffalo Sabres. The Devils alone have given me so many magical moments in that building that will last a lifetime. Although I will not miss the cramped concourses and the traffic jams leaving the parking lots, I will miss everything else about the arena. What I will miss the most and anyone who ever saw a concert there can attest to this, is that the arena had great acoustics and that translated over to hockey. When the Devils filled the place, especially during the playoffs and those Stanley Cup runs, the place could rock. I will also remember the moo’ing as we made the slow bitterly cold trek over the pedestrian bridge to the parking lot at Giants Stadium (used as the overflow lot when the arena was sold out).

The Prudential Center is superior in every way, but the Meadowlands Arena was old-school and had a charm all its own. I understand why the NJSEA needs to close the building. It is just too bad that the state could not find a private buyer to keep the place open (although that would likely cause the new owners to lose money too, which would mean that they would need to sell it). It is kind of sad to think that the day ground was broken for the Prudential Center; the clock was ticking on the Izod Center.

My only hope is that the state does not leave the building to rot. In Los Angeles, where the Devils are playing the Kings right now, the former home of the Kings, the Great Western Forum, was placed on the national register of historic places in 2014. Toronto turned Maple Leaf Gardens into a retail building and a college athletic center. The Montreal Forum is now a national historic site in Canada. Although I would be delusional to think that the Meadowlands is on the level of those great arenas, championships were won here (the Devils claimed the Stanley Cup on home ice in both 1995 and 2003) and great moments were shared by fans of all ages for many years.

To those who have control over these things: If the building does need to be torn down, please do not waste this opportunity. Turn it into park land, not a parking lot for MetLife Stadium or that monstrosity known as Xanadu. Build a baseball stadium on the land so New Jersey can have a Triple A team (the Mets need to move their team out of Las Vegas and the Meadowlands is much closer) or (and this is a pipedream) a major league stadium to bring Major League Baseball to the state of New Jersey.

Whatever you do, do not just let the building waste away. Too much good is tied up in those walls to let that go away. Hopefully we can give the rink that brought NHL hockey to New Jersey a proper sendoff.

Elias Nets 1,000 Career Points, Is Named to All-Star Game

Patrik Elias is one of the greatest players to ever put on a New Jersey Devils jersey. This is something that fans have known for many years (he has, after all, been with the team for his entire 19-year NHL career), but his importance to the team goes even deeper than that. Patrik Elias is the heart and soul of the Devils on the ice, especially now since Marty Brodeur has left. He is the last link, along with the returned Scott Gomez to the Stanley Cup teams of 2000 and 2003. He is the team’s all-time leading scorer. But more importantly, he is a true Devils great, yet he is still one of the most underrated players in the NHL.

Elias was born on April 13, 1976 in Trebic, Czech Republic. He was drafted by the Devils in the 2nd round, 51st overall in the 1994 Entry Draft. After playing for HC Kladno in the Czech Republic as a junior, a team which has strong ties to Jaromir Jagr (his father owns the team), Elias would come to North America to suit up for one game for the Devils in the 1995-96 season. He spent the majority of that season with the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League, scoring 27 goals and 36 assists for 63 points. The following season, he again split time between the Devils and the River Rats (17 games for the big club, 57 for the minor league team), scoring his first NHL goal and point (he had 2 goals and 3 assists in the NHL that year). In 1997-98, though he did play 3 games in which he scored three goals, for Albany, he played 74 games for the Devils and was up in the NHL full time pretty much from there on out. That year, he scored 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points total.

By 1998-99, Elias was a fixture in the Devils lineup, playing in 74 games that year and scoring 17 goals, 33 assists for 50 points. After helping the Devils get to the Stanley Cup Finals with a key goal in the Eastern Conference Final versus Philadelphia, Elias assisted on perhaps one of the most famous goals in NHL playoff history: Jason Arnott’s Cup-clincher in double overtime of game six at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Just about two or three years into his NHL career and Elias was already a Stanley Cup champion, something he would repeat in 2003.

Elias was well on his way to being the great Devil he is now known as; however, he became a Ranger. In the 2006 off-season, Elias decided to test the free agent waters, having been unable to reach an agreement with the Devils. He received notable offers from Chicago, Montreal and the Rangers. Although he had verbally agreed to join the Blueshirts, General Manager Glen Sather would not give Elias a no-trade clause in his new contract and he eventually worked with Lou Lamoriello on a contract to keep him in New Jersey for the next seven years. With Elias firmly back in the fold, the Devils would soldier on. He was named team captain in 2007, but relinquished the captaincy the following season, having never felt comfortable in the role as official team leader. Elias has worn the “A” since the 2005-06 season, however.

March 17, 2009 (St. Patrick’s Day, ironically enough) is known for two things in Devils lore. That game (a win against the Chicago Blackhawks) yielded a new NHL wins leader in net and the Devils’ new all-time leading scorer. While Martin Brodeur got the win in goal, 3-2, and with it, number 552 in his storied career, Elias registered an assist on a shorthanded goal by Brian Gionta, point number 702, pushing him ahead of John MacLean for the Devils record. The next season, on December 12, 2009, Elias scored his 300th goal in a game against the Flyers. He was now well on his way to becoming the all-time leading Devils goal scorer too.

That milestone would be reached in 2011-12, when Elias scored two goals on December 17, 2011 in Montreal to pass MacLean and become the Devils all-time goal scoring leader. That year, Elias made his fourth Stanley Cup Final appearance as the Devils made their surprise run to the championship series, ultimately losing to the Los Angeles Kings. That season would also see him play in his 1,000th NHL game on January 6, 2012 against the Florida Panthers (a game in which he scored a goal and two assists).

Then, last week against the Buffalo Sabres, Elias reached rarified air when he recorded his 998th, 999th and 1,000th points. His 998th point was a goal at 3:44 of the first, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead. Point number 999 came as the primary assist on Travis Zajac’s shorthanded goal at 14:39 of the first, giving the Devils a 3-0 lead. Point 1,000 came as the secondary assist on Mike Cammalleri’s empty net goal at 16:56 of the third. It was assist number eleven of the season, but put him in an elite NHL club. He was also named the game’s first star.

After all of that, late last week, Elias was named to his fourth All-Star Game appearance as the Devils sole representative in Columbus on January 25. Elias previously participated in the All-Star Game in 2000 (Toronto), 2002 (Los Angeles) and 2011 (Carolina).

Elias’s presence has been felt off the ice for the Devils too. His influence has brought other Czech players into the fold. Players like Marty Havlat (who has, mostly due to injuries, been unable to really get his Devils career off the ground – but is still a fine player), Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr. These men have played together internationally and all of them respect Elias. He had more than just a little bit of input when it came time for Lou to make the decision to sign them (or in Zidlicky’s case, for him to agree to be traded to New Jersey). It is partly because of Patty that Devils fans have been able to watch the brilliance that is Jaromir Jagr in person for the last two seasons and why we have Zidlicky’s greatness on the power play to help us when we have the man advantage.

Patrik Elias has been with the Devils for almost two decades. He has accomplished so much that we tend to take him for granted. But when you think about everything that he has meant to this team, you can see just why Elias is arguably the greatest Devil of all time.