The New Jersey Devils opened the 2013-14 season in Pittsburgh last night, and I watched the game at a local restaurant with a few other loyal fans. Although the Devils lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 3-0 final score, myself and the fans I watched the game with found some reasons for optimism for the 81 games that remain ahead in this season.
The first period was probably the worst portion of the game for the Devils, they looked sluggish at points, and out of sync with each other as well. The media reports prior to the game made a big story out of Cory Schneider starting as the goaltender over Martin Brodeur, which broke a long streak of Brodeur starting the season opener.
This decision today could easily be second guessed, but Brodeur missed time at the end of training camp due to his father passing away, and he said he did not feel ready physically to start last night.
Schneider got off to a rough start giving up two early goals, then settled down for a stretch, and then allowed a third goal later in this game. I saw some things I really thought were positive in his performance last night, and some other aspects I found concerning.
He allowed too many long rebounds and was out of position on some rushes to the net by the Penguins. He has to soften the pads more to limit the long rebounds. He did make some solid saves last night against a very good offensive team, one of the best offensive teams in the NHL.
Moving the puck
I felt that the Devils did not move the puck well through the neutral zone last night, and that has to be addressed. The Penguins provided disciplined defensive pressure which resulted in some errant passes as well. The fans I was watching with felt that Jaromir Jagr struggled with passing and his overall game last night, and I would tend to agree.
The movement of the puck in the offensive zone was problematic at points as well. Though New Jersey seemed to find some synergy in the third period where they had some excellent scoring chances, particularly by Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique that they just could not get past the Penguins goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, who had a very strong performance and won his 250th NHL game (www.si.com).
The Devils played better as the game moved along. I observed some details in the 2nd and 3rd periods that I was optimistic to see. In the early stages of the game I also made a note that Adam Larsson looked good, and he played tough at points which this defensive unit will need in the coming months.
I also liked Ryane Clowe sticking up for his new teammates in dropping his gloves to fight Tanner Glass in the first period. I think that set a tone that the Devils were not going to be pushed around, and that they were not going to walk away from dirty hits along boards.
The forecheck was a definite bright spot in the second and third periods in this game, which led to increased scoring chances for New Jersey. If the defensemen continue to work hard and the team can keep that level of intensity on the forecheck, I think that could be the pathway to jump starting the offense on this team.
Finally, the play of the “CBGB line” as we all refer to Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta’s line, played much better than the box score line of -2 would indicate. I think that this line could play a very important role on this team, as it did in the 2012 run to the Stanley Cup Final.
The 2013-14 version of the Devils is a team that will have to roll four lines a night with great success in order to win games. The confidence that these three guys have on this line from playing together could really benefit the Devils because they have a lot of other new faces that will have to develop chemistry in the coming weeks.
The Devils had some issues in this game that need to be addressed. The first being the lack of quality scoring chances. They have to pass the puck more effectively and be more aggressive going to the net.
Head coach Pete DeBoer spoke about the lack of scoring in the post-game, and the fans I watched the game with seemed very concerned about it too. I think they should consider using the cycle to create some offense and wear down the opponent. It worked well for New Jersey at other points, particularly in the 2012 playoff run, they could consider using it again.
Another low point in this game was the play of Marek Zidlicky which is a problem because the Devils count on him for a role as an offensive minded defenseman and on the power play unit. He did not play well at all last night in either role. He committed a bad penalty at a critical juncture in the game.
He has to correct some of the issues because the team needs him to create offense from the defensive third, to pass through the neutral zone, and to use his powerful shot on the power play.
The Devils played pretty well overall for their first night with a roster full of new players who are still learning how to play together. They went up against a Penguins team that is returning largely the same roster that has dominated the Eastern Conference in recent years.
New Jersey is looking to notch their first win tonight in their home opener against the New York Islanders and my colleague, Thomas Formoso, will have a preview of that game later today on Pucks & Pitchforks. Enjoy the game Devils Army!!