After the Devils’ 2-1 win against Tampa Bay a few weeks ago when HOF’ers-to be Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr were the first and second stars, I commented about how remarkable it was to have that legendary duo as our first two stars of the night and about savoring the moment because there probably wouldn’t be many more like it with their careers winding down. Instead that game served as only a preview of things to come, as even more unbelievably Brodeur’s had a dominant stretch since then (eight goals allowed in seven games, six of them wins) while Jagr’s continued to pace the scoring up front with a team-leading 16 points…a full nine points clear of anyone else on the Devils’ roster.
Last night’s 4-1 win over the Penguins was yet another example of the old guys leading the charge, as Brodeur was the game’s first star making 27 stops and only allowing a Chris Kunitz breakaway goal last night on a pokecheck that just missed the mark early in the second period, deflecting the puck behind the goaltender into the net. Of course Marty made a handful of other brilliant saves and perhaps just as importantly kept the play moving time-and-again with his puck-handling – which becomes more important when you see how Cory Schnieder and most other goalies handle it like it’s a grenade. Jagr could easily have been one of the three stars himself with a two-goal, +4 game, firing home a slick wrister on the third goal at 14:03 of the third after Danius Zubrus caused a turnover from Kris Letang and dished it off to the big Czech on the resulting two-on-one. Then Jagr finished the game with a flourish at 18:43 with a nice spin-o-rama empty-netter that he had a laugh about after the game:
Jagr on his empty-netter: “Great move: spin-o-rama, backhand shot, top shelf. Faked the goalie out. What a great move, what a great deke.”
It wasn’t just the old guys (Zubrus included with two assists and a +4 of his own) that stepped up last night though, as Adam Larsson had one of his best games as a Devil with a crucial tie-breaking goal at 18:22 of the second period that he punctuated with slamming his fists on the boards in excitement, then just as critically saving a sure goal early in the third period with a diving stop on an open net. Larsson also got the crowd excited with a big hit on Beau Bennett later in the third. In a rarity, the Devils had not one but two different defensemen score goals as Andy Greene‘s bouncer with nineteen seconds left in the first eluded Marc-Andre Fleury for the Devils’ opening goal. Greene wound up with the second star, probably more for his twenty-seven tough minutes against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin than for his lucky goal.
Last night was another team effort all around, with the offense finally showing up, the defense continuing to hold the fort (particularly on the penalty kill) and not just one but two goaltenders with a sub-2.00 GAA – although Schnieder and his one win is probably envious of Marty’s six despite remarkably similar splits. If one area of the game still needs work it’s the power play, which seemingly had half of its production in a single game with four of its eleven goals in that wild win at Boston which started Marty’s revival. Overall our power play ranks 20th while our penalty kill is 3rd and rising. This despite our supposed PK specialists in Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov. Salvador’s been out indefinitely with a leg injury while Volchenkov’s missed the last two games with a strain. While it’ll be interesting to see what happens when both return, it is nice to see a more mobile defense.
After two home games I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the dissapointing attendance both nights, barely above 12,000 for the SCF rematch on Friday and barely above 14,000 for a marquee division showdown on a Saturday night. Both games were at ‘Elite’ pricing level, which in layman’s terms is the highest non-Ranger single-game prices possible. For November games, even against those two teams it’s foolish to have any game tier priced so high that the cheapest box office seat is $44 meaning it costs $50 and up to get in the building (including transportation/TM fees). Considering how our attendance has always sagged until winter break historically it’s not hard to see in hindsight why the crowd was shockingly dissapointing for both games. At least there was a moment of personal levity last night when some Penguin fan – for reasons known only to American males – posed for a picture with the Devils Dancers, only one of the cheerleaders was holding her pompoms over the logo on his shirt so it couldn’t be seen. There wasn’t as huge a Penguin fan invasion as some feared on a Saturday night, though personally I wound up sitting between a Penguin fan and a Ranger fan(!) last night.
Our sales department continues to try and find ways around the fans chanting ‘you suck’ to the SNA goal song, pumping up the music super-loud, playing it fast and adding in canned ‘Let’s Go Devils’ chants during the song. As usual though it’s more about the game itself and the crowd level as to whether they’re actively engaged in the goal chant. The shame of it is, it actually is a good goal song but I don’t expect it to last. It’s not just on the goal song that the Devils pump up the noise though, it’s all the time…you can’t escape the loud, louder and loudest music ever whether it’s during the pregame skate, stoppages in play or even intermissions when you might actually (perish the thought) want to talk to the people next to you and can barely hear each other. Our fan section which the team more or less controls – the Diablos in 122 – also partakes in the loud, louder and loudest philosophy with a combo of loud horns, dying horns, vuvuzelas and cowbells to go along with a combination of good and laughably hokey chants. Even people watching on TV notice the bad mix of noise from that section, or the lack of audible crowd noise on the goal songs because the Devils are playing the music itself so loudly. I can understand some of it and I’m not against loud noise on principle but I don’t get why it has to be at concert levels all the time. It’s not exactly promoting the ‘family atmosphere’ the new owners seem to want if you can’t hear your kids or anyone else next to you.
Enough of a rant though, it’s not our problem for the next several days as the Devils trek out to the West coast to face the Ducks on Wednesday, Kings on Thursday and Sharks on Saturday in a potentially make-or-break trip. If I had to guess I’d say we’ll see Schnieder on Wednesday and coach Pete DeBoer will give Marty at least one of the Cup Final rematches on Thursday. Whoever’s in goal, the Devils have to find a way to get offense from guys not named Jagr. Although in the ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ theory, Zubrus and Travis Zajac have both picked up their play tremendously since being paired with Jagr on the de facto first line. Hopefully Patrik Elias will find his form on the trip, after a couple of uneven games in his return from back spasms. It would be nice if mercurial skill players Damien Brunner and Michael Ryder both found their early-season form though each (particularly Brunner) look like a fish out of water right now. Ryder is a streaky player in general, but it is always a potential problem trying to integrate one-dimensional/individual players into a team system. It would also be nice if DeBoer didn’t continue to have Gionta and Janssen take multiple shifts a game against the other team’s top line, though he got away with it last night…Gionta even won a crucial faceoff against Crosby on the PK!
Eventually one way or another you would figure the Devils have to branch out a little from having two of the oldest players in the league carry them, but for now it’s still fun to watch, a nice change of pace from the last several months which have been drudgery for the most part.