By Ryan Jahnke
Last week was the start of the 2013 season that many believed we wouldn’t get to see. Even after the season was initially revived and schedules were set, pessimists from all over, even myself, were quick to warn us that the lockout would still sting. Fans were upset with both sides, and experts just had this nagging fear that the hockey faithful probably wouldn’t be too quick to welcome back the league that left them high and dry… again.
Oh, how wrong they were. Alright, fine, how wrong WE were. The fans came out in droves, salivating for the return of the world’s most thrilling sport. Arenas were sold out in the United States and Canada with the faithful rocking the roof wherever they were. People were so happy that they even managed to make it through the Los Angeles Kings’ 72-hour Stanley Cup banner ceremony!
While I’ve spotted a couple of players that are definitely a little sluggish following the lockout, I’m happy to report that it didn’t slow the fans one bit. And, I am especially happy to see this from the Devils Army. The Devils’ home opener at the Prudential Center was a bit of a revelation for Jersey’s team. In spite of all the obstacles, (a heart-breaking end to last season, a lockout at the beginning of this season, the loss of a key free agent, a rival opponent with fans in driving distance, etc.) the Rock was packed and the Red Sea was rockin’.
There were obviously plenty contributing factors to the exciting environment that night. After all, it was a rivalry game to start a new season, and the Devs were coming off a division win against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum, where there was also a surprising amount of red in the crowd. Nevertheless, it’s no real stretch to say that the home opener felt different, felt electric. That’s big deal coming from a team whose questionable season ticket policies left their lower levels looking empty for a long period of their existence.
This, Devils Army, is how a game should feel. We want an arena full of fans glued to the action on the ice that are ready to explode at any minute. So, for this week of hockey I want to thank you, the fans, (Devils and all) for revitalizing our game, and my home away from home at the Prudential Center. This is an environment that people want to be a part of, and that players want to perform in, because we have a home that’s worth defending.
I suppose that I should also give those big guys with the skates and sticks a little bit of credit for the team’s success as well. I mean, they did do most of the heavy lifting.
There is plenty to be excited about after the Devils’ first two games, and it starts at the top with the performance of Martin Brodeur. Marty has taken the game into his own hands, in the way that only he seems able to do. He has controlled the angles, managed the pace, and gone un-flustered by whatever pressure the opposition throws into his crease. This has allowed the defense the confidence they need to pressure the other team and cut their offensive drives short, both at full strength and on the penalty kill. Had it not been for Mark Fayne’s fluky three-player pileup in the corner, the Isles might not have made it onto the scoreboard at all on Saturday night, and both Brodeur and our penalty kill would be perfect. But, I suppose we can settle for a mere 120 career shutouts… for now.
It certainly isn’t perfect yet, there are breakdowns, and mental mistakes. They have been outclassed in at least one period of each game, unable for long stretches to sustain an offensive attack. They’re putting too much pressure on Marty and his defense. Case in point, Philadelphia out shot the Devs 9 – 3 in New Jersey’s high-scoring first period. And come on, even with Fayne’s wipe-out, Travis Hamonic never should have been left alone in front of the net. I’d bring up the penalties too, but it’s hard to base too much on what happened in the Flyers game. That got so ridiculous that they almost had to expand the sin bins.
Still, looking back, there’s more to be happy about than concerned with. Looking towards tonight’s game with Washington and the return of coach Adam Oates. I’m confident that the Devils will continue to progress. Mattias Tedenby will benefit greatly from his promotion to the top line along with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac, and maybe even start to turn some of that hustle into points. Here’s hoping that the team can build on their momentum, that David Clarkson’s puck luck will keep those good bounces coming, and that Marty will continue to show why he is the very best.