The Devils are on edge this season as they realize just how important every point counts.
Just six days ago, they were dead last in the league. Today, they are in the 27th spot. They are still eight points away from grabbing the next spot, which is currently held by the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the way the Devils have been playing in the last month, it would appear as if they do have a chance to make it in the mad dash to the finish.
If they do succeed, they will manage to do things very uncharacteristically of what they have done in the past. As the team has been criticized for bowing out of the first round for the last three years, they have always been a strong ‘winning’ team throughout the majority of the season. They have never been on the outside looking in. They have never struggled to get into the top spot in their division, especially towards the end.
Now, after taking the relaxation approach during the first half of the season, the latter half has been the exact opposite of previous years. They were not riding high at the top of the standings. They failed in the first half. Now, they fight for a chance at just making the final berth in the last half of the season.
Their story could quite possibly become similar to the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers. It took the final game of the season to determine if they were even going to make it into the playoffs. They struggled with mediocre play during the first half of the season. Yet, in the last half of the season, they pushed hard as if they were ready for the playoffs, not knowing if they would even play in the postseason. They found that the hockey gods were winking down upon them when they defeated the Rangers in their final game of the regular season, knocking the Rangers out of that final playoff berth. That miracle took them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Last season, the difference between the Flyers and the Devils was that the Flyers started preparing for a chance at the playoffs during the last half of the season. The Devils, on the other hand, were winners all throughout. It was almost like they were entitled to win, so they didn’t push as hard as someone that was desperate just to make it.
It was like Martin Brodeur said after the Rangers game when they finally hit the 29th spot in the league…last season, Jacques Lemaire’s teachings went to the wayside because they felt like they didn’t need to learn anything. The team felt like they knew it all. But this year, they need to re-learn Hockey 101 all over again. They need Lemaire’s teachings now, more than they did last year.
The Devils are currently fighting tooth and limb just to have the opportunity to play in the playoffs this year. Every two points they can get means everything to them and one point won’t do them any good. They now have 28 games remaining and a possible 56 points out there for the taking.
If they can achieve the impossible, Lemaire will become the coach of the year. And the Devils’ story this season will become one of the greatest stories told in hockey history. They will become the underdog that rose from the bottom of the barrel to win it all. That, of course, is the stuff Hollywood films are made of. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. They still have a lot of things they need to fix.
After their overtime win, Lemaire was not pleased with how the Devils played against the Hurricanes. Anton Volchenkov is one Devil who didn’t help. With three citations forcing him to sit in the penalty box, the Russian defenseman cost the Devils not one, but two power play goals by ‘Canes rookie sensation Jeff Skinner.
What was Volchenkov’s infraction that cost them Carolina’s first power play goal? An elbow to the head of Zach Boychuk. That infraction not only cost the Devils a goal, but it also cost Volchenkov a three-game suspension as handed down by the league today.
According to Boychuk’s Twitter:
@ZachBoychuk: Feeling better after the blind side hit to my head. Doctor cleared me
@ZachBoychuk: Trainer Dougie put me through the concussion test. Had to remember words, numbers, and the months of the year backwards. No problem at all
@ZachBoychuk: Although when I got up to six random numbers and had to repeat backwards It was a bit of a challenge. Found a way though.
The Devils will have to do without Volchenkov for the next three games, as well as Brodeur. In the game against Montreal on Sunday, Brodeur ‘tweaked’ his right knee. This now gives Johan Hedberg the starting position with Mike McKenna as backup.
Mark Fraser will likely fill in on the blueline for Volchenkov. Both Fraser and Adam Mair have been healthy scratches over the past week.
As for Mattias Tedenby, the young rookie is starting to come into his own. Last month, Lemaire had made the decision to scratch him from several games. The reason why has now surfaced.
The forwards are being taught how to play a defensive game. Even Ilya Kovalchuk has been pushed to learn how to play defensively. While Kovalchuk has embraced learning how to play differently, Tedenby has had a hard time switching into a defensive mode. As a result, he was scratched from the lineup.
While the young rookie doesn’t understand why he has to play defensively, what Lemaire has done has changed him into a different, much better player, whether the forward wants to believe it or not. Instead of zooming in, faster than a cheetah, he is slowing down, which allows him to make more effective plays with his teammates, rather than zooming in and becoming an individual player that has to go it alone. As a result of Lemaire’s new tactics, Tedenby has slowed down, become more patient, and has made more effective plays, including tallying the first goal of the game, as well as the game winner in overtime. Lemaire typically does not allow Tedenby to play on the four-on-four, but his intuition got the better of him and he gave the young forward a chance.
But the only way Tedenby could be effective out on the ice was if he was unleashed into the extra period at the right moment.
Knowing how Tedenby played, allowed Lemaire to interject him out onto the ice at the right moment. As a result, Tedenby scored the Devils game-winning goal.
Another rookie that has been on the Lemaire radar is Nick Palmieri. By his 15th game, he already tallied six points (five goals, one assist). Lemaire remarked after the Carolina game that Palmieri was playing like a veteran. Palmieri’s goal at 17:06 of the third period tied up the game to send it into overtime, where Tedenby notched the winner.
All three goals were scored by rookies in the game against Carolina. They showed up in a big way. Carolina’s focus had been elsewhere…shutting down the Devils’ other top offensive players. By not keeping a close watch on the rookies, they were able to seal the win for the Devils.
The Devils face another huge challenge on Friday when they host the San Jose Sharks. In October, the Sharks delivered a biting defeat to the Devils on the West Coast. They will be a tough team to beat, but if the Devils are truly coming back into their true form, they’ll be able to seal two more points.