Devils Play With 15 Skaters

It’s only the beginning of the season. With only three games in, this isn’t the way the Devils intended to start their season. With three straight losses, the Devils have more than just the ‘need to win’ on their minds.

On Saturday, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (PL3) instigated a fight with John Carlson with 4:07 left in the game. This fight led to 19 penalty minutes for PL3. With two minors, a major, and a game misconduct in the final minutes of the game, he received an automatic one game suspension, as well as a fine.

PL3’s decision to fight forced the club’s already small roster to go down to only 15 skaters following his suspension. Anton Volchenkov (neck, broken nose) and Brian Rolston (groin) were scratched from the Devils lineup after the injuries they sustained from Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals.

After only seeing 3:47 of ice time on a reduced roster, it was obvious that PL3 would be the first player to go from the club. The Devils elected to place him on waivers following the announcement of his suspension. He cleared waivers and was reassigned to Albany.

Placing him on waivers was one of the first moves the Devils needed to make. Adam Mair remained unsigned by the team on Monday night. His nameplate was still up on his locker, next to Ilya Kovalchuk’s locker, which was very uncharacteristic of the Devils when a player is not on their roster. He was still skating with the team in practices. Those were signs that the Devils intended on signing him and soon.

With Bryce Salvador (concussion) being placed on Long Term Injured Reserve and Anssi Salmela (knee) designated as an injured, non-roster player, it gave the Devils time to remain over the salary cap until they could figure out what to do. The only thing was, they could not delay making the changes anymore. They needed to make their move on Mair or lose him.

With the injuries piling up and the need to sign Mair, the Devils finally got to work on their salary cap woes. That first step was waiving PL3 and assigning him to the Albany Devils. Today, the Devils signed Mair, who will dress Wednesday night against his former club in Buffalo. This brings the roster back up to 16 skaters.

The answer to their two defenseman on the injured list has been Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina. The two rookies have been delivering a great performance since preseason, skating alongside the veteran defensemen.

While a small roster could be seen as extremely problematic for the team itself, the players are focusing more on a smarter game where they take shorter shifts, but take on more ice time.

“I think we, on most of our part, did a pretty good job tonight of everybody contributing, everybody keeping their shifts short, and staying in the game,” said Jamie Langenbrunner. “We’ve just got to get rid of making those mistakes that end up in our net.”

Last season, the Devils swept the series against the 2009 defending Stanley Cup champions. With both teams struggling to find their first wins of the season, Pittsburgh found their first win of the season in the 3-1 contest.

Unfortunately, there was more working against the Devils on Monday than just a reduced roster. The officiating also seemed to be working against the Devils.

With the tripping calls against the Devils, it made you question if there were new rules in tripping penalties. The replays showed that the Devil either never touched the Penguin when he fell and headed straight into the net, or the player was already going down, and a Devil touched him with his stick lightly (i.e. it wasn’t the cause of the player falling, he was already falling down). Yet, the Devils were called on tripping in four out of the six penalties assessed to them.

It was even blatant that something was amiss when Patrik Elias was tripped on his way to the net. No call was made. All of these marks makes one think that the rules for tripping penalties had changed. It looked more like diving was working in the Penguins favor.

It would seem from all of this that the drama from the Kovalchuk saga still continues for the Devils. From signing him, to having his contract rejected, to signing him again, and a revision being made to the CBA, the summer of Kovalchuk has progressed into the autumn of Kovalchuk.

Now, the Devils are faced with the ramifications of what it took in order to sign the Russian winger. They’ll either watch it fall apart, or make it work.

If it’s a 15-18 man roster for the season, then so be it. There are no excuses, according to coach John MacLean. The Devils will find a way to make it all work. After all, it’s only the beginning of the season. History has shown that teams that win from the start, don’t always finish as winners.

It’s usually the ones that lose and struggle from the start that end up the winners at the end.

Pittsburgh 3, Devils 1

In Monday’s contest, the Devils skated six defensemen and nine forwards. With the return of Paul Martin to Prudential Center…this time as a Pittsburgh Penguin, the one thing Devils fans did not want to see was Martin receiving two points in his return (1g, 1a). Although, he did state after the game that he did not want to score on that empty-netter.

He has no ill feelings towards the Devils or their fans. He did not want to pour more salt into the open wounds of the Devils fans with his goal and assist. But the fact is, he’s with a new club now and he has to do what is best for his team…the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But signing with another Atlantic Division team (willingly during the beginning of free agency) was grounds for the fans to boo him every time he touched the puck. Devils fans were not happy that their number one defenseman elected to go somewhere else instead of waiting out the Kovalchuk saga. If he had waited it out, he probably would have found himself still unsigned at the beginning of the season. Mike Mottau found that to be true in his case and signed with the New York Islanders.

In the first period of the contest, Alex Goligoski started the scoring off for the Penguins at 18:56 from Eric Tangradi (on Twitter: @EricTangradi). This was Tangradi’s first official NHL point.

In the middle stanza, with Elias in the penalty box for tripping Sidney Crosby, Mark Letestu scored at 2:32 from an unlucky bounce off of Henrik Tallinder. The time for his goal was originally credited at 2:33, which would not have been a power play goal. But the higher ups changed the time by one second, thus making it a power play goal.

After last night’s contest, the Penguins learned that they need to work on their special teams. With six power plays, and a lucky break on the time being rolled back, they went 1-for-6 on the power play.

The other side of the coin is that the Devils’ penalty kill has been stellar. Martin Brodeur has a great team backing him up on the few occasions when the puck slid past him. Kovalchuk’s lucky dive to grab the puck with his hand before it went in was one amazing save last night. Even the defensemen slid in behind Brodeur to keep the puck out.

“They played pretty good,” Brodeur said of the defensemen. “Just one bad bounce off of [Tallinder] there on the power play they had. Apart from that, we skated pretty good. We played pretty good also.”

In the past two seasons, it was always the goalie that saved the team. This is the first time that the team has worked together to protect their net together on a consistent basis. It takes more than one man to save the Devils.

In the final period, Brodeur was pulled after the Devils called a timeout at 18:39. It wasn’t enough for the team to generate a goal to send the game into overtime. Martin got a hold of the puck, skated it down and scored the finale of the night into the empty net, sealing the Penguins win 3-1 over the Devils.

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