A Tough Time To Be A Devils Fan
 

Hello and welcome all to my inaugural column here at Puckiní Around.  Iíd like to first take the time to thank Adam Hill for the opportunity to have my say here on his site, and for allowing me to inject a bit of ĎuLArí into the re-design of the site.  I hope you all enjoy it, and feel free to mail me at the e-mail address below for any suggestions or requests.  Iíd also like to urge you all to take advantage of one of hockeyís greatest minds Iíve come across and e-mail your questions to the ASK PUCKIN section of the site and let Adam respond to them.  Itís your chance to have a say, and your questions will be posted on the site, as we try to make this a more interactive site than before.  OK, with all my plugs out of the way, on with my backgroundÖ

 

            I havenít been a Devils fan forever.  I am a typical French-Canadian ( lived all my life in Ottawa ), and like most French-Canadians, I grew up idolizing the Habs.  Thank God for the Chris Chelios trade in 1990, or I would most likely still be a Habs fan and not even be aware that hockey existed outside the Bell Center and La Soirťe du Hockey!  When Serge Savard traded Chelios away to the Chicago Blackhawks, something inside me tore.  How could my favorite player in the game possibly go play for a team other than my Canadiens ?  What was I to do ?  Cheer for *groan* the Blackhawks ?  They didnít have Patrick Roy, Shayne Corson, Mats Naslund, Stťphane Richer and all those other players I idolized.  They had some guy called Belfour in goal that had only come on during the playoffs, Steve Larmer and Steve Thomas as scorers, a kid called Jeremy Roenick who was supposed to be the future, and a bunch of other players I didnít know, or never cared to know.  They had just lost the Conference Finals to the Minnesota North Stars, while my Habs failed to make the Finals a second year in a row, losing to the Bruins in a series that went all the way to 7 games.  I was faced with a dilemma over the summer.  Who would I cheer for once the 1990-91 season would begin ?

 

            I became a Blackhawks fan all the way up until the 1996-97 season, when a goaltender, Martin Brodeur got my attention and turned me into a New Jersey Devils fan for good.  His 1.88 GAA and 0.927 Save Percentage could not be ignored !  The team counted many stars and were solidly coached by a familiar person, ex-Montreal coach Jacques Lemaire, who is today know as the innovator of ďThe TrapĒ, a defensive system designed to clog up the neutral zone and force turnovers, or to bore hockey fans, depending on your opinion.  Say what you want about the system, it won New Jersey a Stanley Cup, and almost back-to-back Stanley Cups ( that damn Raymond Bourque ) !  Itís also made a believer out of all the Minnesota Wild fans out there this year, where Lemaire is proving to all that a defense-first system is what wins hockey games, which brings me to my subject.

 

            Even more dangerous than a team thatís great at playing the Trap is a team that boasts great offensive skill and has tremendous skaters.  The Ottawa Senators.  They out-scored the Philadelphia Flyers 10-3 in the final 2 games of the series, and are facing off against New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Finals.  So far, the road has been easy for New Jersey, having faced a poor defensive team in the Boston Bruins, and an inexperienced Tampa Bay team.  The true test is now.  What a tough time it is to be a Devils fan right now !  As an Ottawa boy, Iíve been caught up in Sens fever over here, and must say that the Sens look ready to go all the way.  The series against Philadelphia was tough on them, but it also seems like it rallied the team, and since they have advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time in their recent history, the Sens have lifted that huge load off their shoulders and should truly feel like the pressure has lifted, if thatís even possible at this stage.

 

            No doubt, this will be the biggest series in Sens history, and itís the biggest test the Devils will face to date.  Brodeur is known to be a cool performer in goal, and prone to steal a game or two in the playoffs.  He will need to be at his best here.  The problem for the Devils however, is coverage.  In their last two series, the Madden line was in charge of ( and successfully ) shut down the other teamís # 1 line.  Thornton for Boston, Lecavalier in Tampa Bay.  Ottawa has four lines that can score on any given night, and Pat Burns will have to choose whether to play the Madden line against Hossa, Alfredsson or Havlatís line.  Even if Madden is double-shifted, he still canít shut down three lines by himself.  The rest of the Devils will have to step it up.

 

            Another area that has worked for the Devils up to now is the intimidation factor.  Weíve seen the Lightning avoid coming in on Scott Stevenís side of the ice, from fear of the repercussions of being hit by the captain.  Ottawa has shown that they are not going to be intimidated in their series with Philadelphia, something that will hurt the Devils.  All in all, I just donít see how New Jersey can win this one.  But its playoff time, a time where players are expected to elevate their games, and even underdogs ( if you can call New Jersey underdogs ) can knock out the defending champs, whether it be the Stanley Cup Champions ( Cuuuuuuuujooooooooo ), or the President Trophy winners, and the Devils know a lot about that.  They have two Conn Smythe trophy winners in their lineup ( Stevens and Nieuwendyk ) who have been to the show, and know what it takes to win it all.   They have the experience.  They have the hunger.  Will it be enough ?  Itís a tough call, so letís break it down:

 

SENS

GRADE

DEVILS

GRADE

EDGE

OFFENSE

Threats: 

Hossa, Bonk, Alfredsson, Havlat, Smolinski, Varada, White.

Non-Factors: 

Arvedson, Hull, Van Allen

Dark Horses: 

Schaefer, Fisher, Neil

Goals For:  30

Avg Goals For:  2.73

 

 

 

 

 

 

A

Threats: 

Madden, Langenbrunner, Gomez, Elias, Friesen.

Non-Factors:

Stevenson, McKenzie, Rheaume

Dark Horses: 

Gionta, Nieuwendyk, Marshall, Brylin

Goals For:  27

Avg Goals For:  2.70

 

 

 

 

 

A -

 

 

 

 

 

Sens

DEFENSE

Threats: 

Chara, Redden, Philips, Volchenkov.

Non-Factors: 

Hnidy, Pothier, Leschyshyn. 

Dark Horses: 

Rachunek.

 

 

 

B +

Threats: 

Niedermayer, Stevens, Rafalski, Tverdovsky. 

Non-Factors: 

Albelin, Daneyko. 

Dark Horses: 

Smehlik, White

 

 

 

 

A

 

 

 

Devils

GOALTENDING

Lalime 

GAA:   1.49 

Save %:  .937

 

  

A +

Brodeur 

GAA:   1.51 

Save %:  .941

  

A +

  

Even

SPECIAL TEAMS

PP %:  18.5 

PK %:  93.5

* Ottawa has 2 SHG

 

A +

PP %:  18.4 

PK %:  85.7

 

 

B

 

Sens

COACHING

Martin

A

 

Burns

A

Even

DEPTH

Spezza, Ray, Prusek

A

 

Schwab, Bicek

B -

Sens

EXPERIENCE

1st appearance in  Conference Finals.

B

3rd appearance in 4 years in Conference Finals.

A

Devils

 

OVERALL

 

SENS WIN 3 - 2

 

 

Weíre in for a tough one folks, and it looks like a long one.  This series has everything pointing towards going the distance, with the Sens taking it. Itís a tough time to be a Devilsí fanÖ

 

Agree ?  Disagree ?  Comments ?  Questions ?  Hate Mail ?  Mail me here: ular@puckinaround.net