For the first time in a long time the Devils are finally no longer dead last in the entire league. They have finally inched their way out of that final spot and are now 29th in the NHL after their win Thursday night over the New York Rangers.
The Devils are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Inching a step forward in the standings is a good sign for the Devils, but they are not looking at those numbers right now.
“I don’t think they look at the standings that much,” coach Jacques Lemaire said of the team. “I think they just focus on how they have to play every night and that’s the main thing.”
“We still have 30 games to play,” Patrik Elias said. “We’ll look at [the standings] after we have no more games.”
“To look at the standings, I don’t think we do,” forward Dainius Zubrus added. “In terms of us, there’s always a good rivalry. There’s always good games. I thought this game was no different.”
These consecutive wins leave most to wonder if the Devils can work a miracle in the last half of the season. Can the Devils make it into the final playoff spot by the end of the regular season? While it would take a miracle to happen, the Devils are no stranger to miracles happening.
Back during the 2005-06 season, they faced a similar situation of being on the outside looking in. But a little miracle happened when Elias made his return after being out sick the majority of the season with Hepatitis A. The team was 19 points away from the cutoff, but not only did they make an historic comeback, but capture the Atlantic Division title.
Now, they find themselves 18 points away from the eighth seeded team, the Atlanta Thrashers. That’s a total of nine wins. But they will need more than that just to make it in. Anything is possible.
The Devils are not focusing on the playoffs right now. They are working on playing better. Their focus is on one game at a time. They’re not looking at the end of the road. hey are looking at their performance now. As they take each step forward, they could possibly see themselves knocking on the post-season’s door. That, of course, is a few months away. All they are concerned about doing now is winning and getting back to their true form.
“I think they are playing as a team,” Lemaire said. “You can tell when you look at them. They help each other on the ice, which they didn’t do in the past. They were working, but individually.
“Now, they work as a team.”
“We lost a lot of games in the first half of the season,” Elias said. “I think we have a new approach. Every time we play a game, it doesn’t matter who we play against right now. It’s about us playing the right way and we’re doing a good job of that.”
“I don’t like the trap thing,” Elias laughed. “That’s what it was always called…the Devils hockey. We play the trap. We play real defensively. We’re doing that, but at the same time we’re playing position wise and we control the puck a lot more. You look at our defensive zone coverage and the way we make plays in our zone…not as much panic. We’re making little plays.
“It seems easier for us to play that way. We’re moving the puck. We control the game that way. It creates more opportunities.”
“We just like to talk about play[ing] simple,” Ilya Kovalchuk said. “Don’t just throw the puck away because we need to control the puck and that’s what we’re doing.”
These simple changes has brought back the old winning ways of the Devils. It took Lemaire only a few weeks to get the team back on their path and back to their old ways of winning.
The question remains: what took Lou Lamoriello so long to call him up?
New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers, 3-2
Kovalchuk started the dance with their Hudson rival with only 1:04 into the game.
Zubrus followed with a lucky chance against Henrik Lundqvist. As the young goalie thinks he has the puck, it unfortunately rolls towards the goal line. Dan Girardi’s attempt to knock it out ends up hitting Lundqvist in the back and bouncing right into the net to give the Devils a two goal lead at 8:01 in the second period.
At 11:31, David Clarkson and Sean Avery dropped the gloves. In the past, Avery has taunted Clarkson into a fight, but as the Devil drops his gloves, Avery skates off. Being extra cautious this time, Clarkson waited for Avery to make the move.
“He asked me to fight there near the end,” Clarkson said of Avery. “I just wasn’t for sure if he was going to fight. I was kind of hesitant and then I dropped my gloves and held on and waited.
“I don’t know what happened. I couldn’t tell you. I just threw a punch. I don’t know if he missed and fell or what happened. I’m really not sure. That was it. There wasn’t much to it.”
Avery was the first to go down as Clarkson took a few swings at the agitator. Both headed to the penalty box for fighting.
At 15:04 Brian Rolston delivered a sniper shot to beat Lundqvist. The third goal was enough to bench the Swedish superstar and bring in Martin Biron.
Heading into the Devils’ zone, Artem Anisimov managed to get Henrik Tallinder’s stick tangled up to where he could pass the puck to Ryan Callahan. With Tallinder tied up with Anisimov, Callahan was able to come from the side and send one in at 16:25.
In the final stanza, both Zubrus and Anton Volchenkov headed to the penalty box to give the Rangers a two-man advantage. In his first game of the season, Vinny Prospal tallied the power play goal, marking his first goal of the season at 2:21.
“At the time we started to get penalties, which didn’t help, because the same guys that play the power play to kill the penalties, just adds minutes and they get tired,” said Lemaire. “They came back [with] a couple of goals. But I felt that the guys didn’t drop as a team. They stayed poised and did what they had to do…it’s part of the game.”
At 7:12, Colin White got called for roughing Avery. White was down at the end, laying on top of Avery, rubbing his face.
“He was mad at me for that,” White said of his roughing call on Avery. “Clearly the guy is on my back. Then the other guy is charging, trying to hit me.”
“Right before that,” White said of rubbing Avery’s face. “The guy had his stick wrapped around me from behind the net.”
But this wasn’t the last Avery incident. With the Devils finishing their checks, one left Avery lying in a heap on the ice. He struggled to get up and make it back to the bench. The benefit of it for the Devils was having one less player down in the offensive zone.
“I don’t think anybody really went after him,” he said. “We were just finishing our checks. I don’t think anybody went out of their way to get him or focused on him. I think we just played a good game and got the two points. I don’t think anyone on our team went out of their way to get him. It may have looked different.”
In the last second of the game, the Rangers were almost able to tie up the game, but upon the review of the play, it showed that the puck had hit the bottom crossbar and came out. Ergo, no goal.
“Not only that one,” Lemaire said of not liking that final second. “There were a few I didn’t like.”
“I got a lot of chances tonight,” Kovalchuk said. “I think our line played well. We’ll take one goal and we’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
While the Rangers fans were chanting MAR-TY after each of their two goals, the irony of the chants was that both goals came after Lundqvist was pulled. There were two Martys on the ice during that time. Biron was the only goalie to not allow in a single goal in the contest.
“This team always has their fans behind them,” Zubrus said. “They’re always not afraid to cheer. Any time you can get a lead, it kind of keeps them silent and maybe out of the game for the fans. It’s always good.”
It’s apparent that Lemaire’s return to the Devils has completely turned the team around in a very short amount of time. But what made him decide to come out of retirement to be head coach of the Devils once again?
“I took it because of Lou [Lamoriello],” Lemaire said. “There’s no doubt about the first thing on why I took the job. The second one is I feel that it’s a top organization. It was hard to look at them play the way they were playing. I know a lot of these guys that I coached in the past. I felt sorry for them for what was happening to them. I thought I could help.”
“He’s done a good job,” Elias said. “The guys do a great job, too. To build into a system and play that way and we’re seeing that we can have some fun.”
“Jacques is all about teaching,” Brodeur said. “When you have a bunch of guys that is going through the season and the year is successful, sometimes that teaching is like, alright…come on.
“But now, we need it. He’s just embracing it. The boys are embracing it also. It’s been a good transition for us, because it’s Hockey 101. That’s how we go to practice. It’s always something new. A lot of things we go through and we don’t miss much, but we miss much in the game.
“Even though we win, we’re not perfect anymore.”