By Ryan Jahnke
Alright New Jersey Devils’ fans, your 2013 season is officially 10 games deep and that seems like a nice place to step back and take a look at where the team is and where it’s going.
A hot start to the year has Jersey’s team on top of the Atlantic. With the biggest pre-season question being, where will this year’s production come from, it’s safe to say that no one saw this coming. It was a justifiable concern, not knowing whom the team could rely on. Superstar, Ilya Kovalchuk, would have to deal with all of the attention from opposing defenses without wingman Zach Parise. The goalies were still the oldest in the league and nobody else was getting any younger. Would the team still be able to rely on Patrik Elias? Would David Clarkson repeat his performance from last year? And what about Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, and all the young blood coming into town? Would we see sophomore slumps, or even see some of them make the team?
Ten games deep Devils fans, what are you getting out of what you’ve got? All that you could have asked for!
Starting with the goalies, we can put the questions about age to bed for a while. Martin Brodeur is Marty and Johan Hedberg is a wall. Having a goalie that can consistently come in cold and shut down the opposition like Moose has is an advantage that no other team can boast. Brodeur did put together an uncharacteristic pair of clunkers against the Islanders and Pittsburgh, but he followed that up with two great showings against the Rangers and the Lightning. Never doubt the best of all time.
The offense has been almost as impressive, and far more surprising. The Devils have scored 3 or more goals in 7 out of their 10 games thus far, and, as usual, it has been a team effort. Goals have come from 11 players on the roster and all but five skaters who have laced up for the NHL roster have contributed to the scoring.
Individual efforts are just as encouraging. Henrique has come back on fire, the clutch Line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier have lived up to their reputation, and team leaders Kovy and Elias have contributed in all facets of the offensive game, with Patty coming through on the power play and Ilya posting up two shorthanded goals. Then there’s Clarkson. How has he responded to the expectations and being brought up to the top two lines? The man is a beast! Seven goals and six assists through the first 10; that’s among the NHL’s best. Not too bad for an undrafted player who was once thought of as little more than a glorified enforcer.
Last, we have the defense. Ok, so it’s not all perfect. Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, and Anton Volchenkov haven’t gotten off to the greatest start. That’s not to say that there aren’t bright spots. After a slow start, a resurgent Andy Greene has blown up registering six points, including two goals, in the last four games. This has got to be relief for a player who was thought to be declining. Second to Greene is Larsson, who has looked as polished as any player since returning to the lineup. Unlike the skittish kid we saw after that punishing hit last year from Montreal’s P.K. Subban, the Larsson playing for the Devils right now never seems flustered, and is never rushed into making a mistake. This man is playing like there’s ice in his Swedish veins.
With all these positives, things are looking good for the next 10 games. Beyond that, there are still questions. We don’t know when Lou Lamoriello will make his move for the playoff push, or what that move will be. Will the Devils solidify their questionable defense, or will they look to add more scoring to ensure that the run that they’re on doesn’t come to an end? Who knows? If Lou’s history is any guide, we probably won’t know much about anything until the new acquisition shows up at Newark Airport. But why look at those questions right now? Now, the Devils should just be proud of the head start that they’ve built up, and get ready to start the next 10 this weekend with a home and away against Pittsburgh.
Quick Looks Back and Forward
Lamoriello started wheelin’ and dealin’ this week, and the smart money says that you’ve probably never heard of the guy reporting to Albany. His name is Andrei Loktionov, Lokti for short, and he’s a 22-year-old playmaker from Russia, and former teammate of Adam Henrique with the Windsor Spitfires.
According to Henrique, the man we acquired is a skilled, patient player, with great vision on the ice, and his AHL stats seem to back that up. In several seasons with the Manchester Monarchs, most of them only registering near 30 games, Lokti never registered less than 15 assists, with a high of 23 in his 34-game 2010-2011 season. He is capable of lighting the lamp on his own, but having never registered more than eight goals, it’s hard to say that he’ll be a scoring threat as a Devil.
All of this, however, must be stored in the memory banks because of the simple fact that there’s a long line to reach the Prudential Center. Lokti wil have to prove himself over the likes of Mattias Tedenby, Matt Anderson and current Albany leading scorer Joe Whitney to work his way to the top, and maybe show that he can keep himself on the ice for a full season.
Meanwhile, the current Devils will be looking for a bit of revenge against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Let’s be honest, the win against the Rangers felt great, it always does, but if the Devils can’t split the series this weekend, they’ll be under Pittsburgh’s boot all year. Pittsburgh will have the head-to-head tiebreaker, and a mental edge to go along with their scary roster, and the Devs can’t let them grab hold of that so early in the season.
The Devils can only combat this by playing their game, with a strong forecheck and penalty kill, both of which failed them the last time they met the Pens. It’s not an easy thing to pull off, especially since the Penguins draw a lot of penalties and the Devils can’t stay out of the box, but it must be done. You can’t let Crosby, Malkin and Neal skate unchallenged. They’ll make you pay, and hard. As long as the Devils split, they’ll stay right in the thick of the division race and keep Pittsburgh from getting on a six game win streak.
Big weekend, can’t wait to watch it play out