Notes From Last Night: Hedberg Shines, Powerplay Struggles, And The Value Of Patrik Elias

Johan Hedberg stops Simon Gagne's shootout attempt during yesterday's 2-1 win over the Kings (Image courtesy Julio Cortez/AP)

First off, you may have noticed that last night’s game recap was written by Richard Dobbins.  Richard is beginning here at Pucks and Pitchforks, and should provide some great insight as a staff writer.  We have known each other since we were both very little, and we share the same passion for sports, and the Devils, specifically.

The start to yesterday’s game was certainly nothing positive.  An ill-timed line change leads to a Kings’ rush into the offensive zone, and with a pass across the crease to Simon Gagne, no Devil was back to possibly knock him off the puck.  The ex-Flyer swept the puck past Marty, and then flipped it into an open net.  Later in the period, Brodeur took a shot to the collarbone from Alec Martinez during a terrible stretch from the Devils in their own zone, and would eventually come out after the first period.  His injury timeout, as Zach Parise later admitted, would help the team regroup, as they scored just a minute later and outshot the Kings through the rest of the game.

The real hero of last night’s win, undoubtedly, was Johan Hedberg, who was given the opportunity to play in his second straight game when Marty was pulled with his injury.  And despite his coming off the bench cold, ‘Moose’ was terrific, stepping up for the Devils and keeping the game tied throughout his 45 minutes.  Hedberg did not let a single puck by him, even denying the aforementioned Gagne and Anze Kopitar in the shootout to continue his excellence in the skills competition (sorry, that’s truly what it is).

After a strong outing on Monday afternoon, Hedberg was brilliant in this game.  While none of us can know, at the moment, exactly how much playing time Moose should expect this season, it is evident already that his role on this team will be extremely large.  Marty is now in the last year of his contract with the Devils, and, to take a quote from Mike Emrick, his “birth certificate couldn’t be changed” (‘Doc’ had said this about himself after he stepped down from the Devs’ booth.)

Hedberg is 38 himself, in fact, so both goaltenders should not have to worry about receiving the necessary off-days as long as they both stay relatively healthy.  And Moose is hardly an average backup in this league; in three years prior to joining to Devils, he never played in less than 33 games, and played 47 in 2009-2010, his last season in Atlanta.  There is no doubt he can give this team a chance to win nearly every night, and with the coaching staff very possibly willing to “ride the hot goaltender” in net this season, he could have an opportunity to earn plenty of playing time throughout the year.

With one outstanding positive comes a pretty evident negative, however.  At this point, the Devils’ powerplay has become a major concern for all of us, yet to score in the first three games of this season.  After finishing 28th in PP% last year, this is nothing new in New Jersey.  However, the Devils need to be much better than they have been, as they certainly have the firepower to produce with the man advantage.  There are some specific issues, though, that need to be fixed first.

The only way the Devils will be able to seek some success on the powerplay is if they are able to maintain puck possession in the zone.  There will always be clears by the opposition; however, the way they have been handled has not looked great.  In trying to enter the offensive zone, the dump-and-chase has been extremely ineffective, as have many of their entry passes thus far.  Even when the Devils get off to a decent start on a powerplay, and tally a couple of shots in the first minute, many chances with the man advantage have been virtually ended by one or two clears; this, ultimately, cannot happen.  The endless passing is also an issue; the little time the ‘Devs have spent with the puck in the offensive zone on a powerplay so far has been almost wasted away with ineffective passes; and when the unit realizes a shot needs to be taken, it is usually the wrong one.  Perhaps they are searching too hard for the perfect, open shot, instead of putting the puck on the net and hoping for a good bounce or two.

It almost goes without saying that Adam Oates’ job is in serious jeopardy at this point.  For me, this isn’t a statement that brings about much concern, as Oates has not yet shown that he knows how to manage a powerplay unit and is, ultimately, worthy of his position.  At times, the Devils have looked clueless with the man advantage, and for a team that doesn’t score too often in the first place, they must start to take advantage of these opportunities.  If they cannot, expect Oates to be sent packing, potentially, before the midway point of the season.

On a more positive note, in three games thus far in 2011-2012, Patrik Elias has looked excellent.  Patty is skating well, and setting up chances from the center position he once again occupies.  Last night, he scored his first goal of the season, tucking a rebound just below the crossbar on his backhand.  Elias has been playing on a line with Parise and Petr Sykora, and has shown how important he is as a top-six forward in this lineup each night.

This is especially true with the absence of Travis Zajac, as Elias has become the top-line center in Zajac’s absence.  And although Patty and Parise do not have the chemistry that the two Z’s have had in the past, Elias has proven a more-than-replacable compliment.  Without him, it is tough to say how the Devils’ top lines would gel at the moment; I’m not sure if there is anyone else on this team who could center Parise and Sykora nearly as well as he has so far.  Even when Zajac eventually returns, Elias’ value on this team will continue to be very high, potentially alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and/or a few of the young forwards on this Devils team he can help to develop.

Last night’s win, overall, was a very nice one to have.  The Kings (be sure to read up on this game at Rink Royalty as well) are a strong team, and after a rocky start, the Devils recovered to play up to their level (and perhaps greater at points in the game).  They conclude their three game homestand with four out of six possible points, and I’m sure the team is very content with this after their poor effort in the opener against the Flyers.  Saturday, it’s on to Nashville, before five off-days until the Devils’ next game.

-Drew

PS: If there is any important news on Marty’s injury, I will try and pass that along.  Brodeur did not practice today, but is with the team in Nashville.  It appears his injury is not serious, although I would think he would sit out tomorrow’s game.  I’m sure Marty is happy, if no one else, at the “break” the Devils have between games four and five of the young season.

PPS: Adam Henrique was assigned to Albany earlier today, leaving the Devils with 13 forwards on the roster.  Although I believe Henrique might be able to help the team more than the likes of Cam Janssen and/or Brad Mills, if the team was not planning to play him everyday, then sending him down for consistent playing time is probably the right idea.

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