NJ Devils Month in Review, December 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL (ok that sounded as lame and phony as when everyone else says it… so instead I hope your hangovers were painful!!… yeah that’s more like it)

What a fun December it was (and I gotta admit I’ve gotten a bit of a rush in this non-Brodeur era of hockey because you don’t know what you are getting and… man… that’s kinda exciting still!!) 9 wins, 5 losses…. A ton of goals and a win over the Rangers we will NEVER forget in our lifetime (and a birthday game stinker), but when you look at this month as a whole, the quality of TEAM play, it’s hard to complain… even for me!!

Forwards:
#9 (LW) Zach Parise:
8 goals, 11 assists… hot damn this kid is getting 100 points this year (and in the NHL Top 10 in scoring, reminds ya lots of the 1999-2001 Devils which scored, played defense and did it all at a level you thought you might never see again… never is NOW folks!), you need to work hard and long to find problems with Zach this year…even now being the focal point of the opponent’s defensive plans… you can’t stop him! Keep an eye on #9… this could be the finest season ever played by a man in a Devil sweater!!

Grade: A

#14 (RW) Brian Gionta:

Another solid month and still on the 70-point pace… people will whine that he’s shooting into the logo and not scoring enough (only 2 goals), but like I say a lot on assist guys (and he had ten this month)… SOMEONE is scoring on those plays… and while it may not be the pretty pass, it’s good work and effort that is getting those plays across… and it’s hard to downplay his success over his years with Elias… but don’t worry… on NJDevs they will find a way!!! With the decline of Madden as drastic as it is… there’s a chance he might be playing his way back here again next year, and he’s a guy you can use on power plays, penalty kills and he gets his tiny lil nose dirty! But I guess 12 points in 14 games is a reason to send him to the AHL :p

Grade: B+

#19 (Center) Travis Zajac:

It’s a joy seeing this kid who all the world but a few with a clue wanted traded last year… and look at him now… he’s becoming a mini-Holik WITH a scoring touch! 6 goals, 5 assists (and getting better each month)… damn I wish I could find faceoff stats, but I think he’s been okay on those too… maturing more and more right in front of us!

Grade: B+

#26 (LW) Patrik Elias-A

9 goals, 10 points… what is he Zach Parise?? And take it one step further… only ONE minus game all month! (+8)… skating hard… playing hard… damn someone needs to suck around here so I have something to rip on…this is almost going to get boring soon with all the rave reviews!!! Not to mention he’s on the pace to be the scoringest Devil ever!

Grade: A+

#11 (Center) John Madden-A

OK, here’s some of the bad… earned his way out of being a key guy on this team with his defensive play declining as his skating is losing a step (bad time to be an UFA right?), ZERO goals….. 2 assists… a -5, but the one thing you can credit him for… the penalty kill is again respectable and he’s a part of that and he’s still a faceoff guy on this team too, so while it’s bad… he does add value as a 4th line center, but good Lord he’s not dropped off… he fell off the damn cliff!!

Grade: C- (the pk effort is saving him from EPIC FAIL!)

#8 (LW) Danius Zubrus:

How do you only have 2 goals and 4 assists when Elias and Gionta are playing SO WELL around him? Odd, might be playing his way off that 1-A scoring line as Brian Rolston gets better and better, he is still playing physical and making space for his line mates… but 6 points ain’t enough when it’s all hands on deck hockey like it is now!

Grade: C

#15 (RW) Jamie Langenbrunner-C

Much like Zajac the stats get better each month and it looks like he’s 100% healthy at last (and not playing… maybe not scoring as much as he should and DEFINITELY not in the right place as the point man on the power play… but he is producing which is a plus, 2 goals and 10 assists is plenty good enough to be there buzzing with Zajac and Parise, just be a DAMN FORWARD IN FRONT ON THE POWER PLAY… please!!!! Playing good enough… but not flat out amazing….

Grade: B+

#23 (RW) David Clarkson:

Looks like he’s GETTING IT playing with Holik (Dear God now that Tallackson is exiled can he wear #21, please??)… two goals and 4 assists still ain’t enough offense, and needs more time in front of the net on power plays, but it’s getting there and should easy set highs in goals and assists… I just want a little bit more offense (like imagine a 20 goal pace instead of a 15, that would be scary on this team)… also didn’t seem to fight or bang as much as I’d like…CMON GOONAGE!!!

Grade: B-

#20 (LW) Jay Pandolfo:

It’s almost a damnation when you need Mike Rupp to make a sick play to put you on the scoreboard, two goals… no assists (selfish asshole :p).. though the beauty short on PuffyPads was a plus and a key goal in that disaster game! The ice time is dropping too… he’s becoming close to a “why did we sign him again?”… penalty kill specialist who isn’t adding much besides that….

Grade: C- (again the goal on the Rangers keeps him from failing for the month!)

#17 (LW/C) Mike Rupp:

It’s scary that I almost feel BAD for him being stuck with Madden and Pandolfo… if anything it’s not a good mix of the three guys…but there’s no one else to put there. Tolerable offensive stats considering his crap line mates and lack of personal offensive skill….and still that pass to Pando was a beauty….as much a victim of circumstance as much as limited NHL Skills….

Grade: C

#25 (LW) The man simply known as PL^3 (cause I hate typing his name!)
I have to mention him because he played three games this month… ok I feel I did my duty here…no fights… no minus games… okay… terrific, my job is done here….

Grade: D+ (he’s barely relevant enough on this team to mention)

#12 (LW/C) Brian Rolston:

Took some time to get it going and he seems to have that now with Clarkson up there to raise hell and Holik making some space, took most of the month to get going (all 4 goals were in the last 8 games, took some time to get comfortable on the ankle and find some chemistry like he has on the Holik/Clarkson line)… the power play laser is coming too, could be dangerous if the $8 million line gets it going too….

Grade: C+ (but improving)

#16 (Center) Bobby Holik:
Big mean nasty bastard and he is BACK this year…. Goes out there for ten minutes a night and bulldozes people!! Gotta like that!! Knows his role and FINALLY in his career is ok with it! And even added a few points in this month in limited games and playing time… doing his job and seems to be rubbing off in good ways on Clarkson and Zajac… takes a few too many old school nogoaliking penalties… but I think you gotta live with that right?? Besides… the penalties got the pk back on track and dammit that’s TEAM spirit!!

Grade: A

Defense:
#7 Paul Martin:

Only 4 assists but his value to his team goes beyond that. Playing about 25 minutes a night and +6 for the month tells ya lots in what he means to this team. Doesn’t and won’t excite you offensively, but still mans the point on the power play (and NEEDS TO on this team). This team needs Martin and Salvador playing well to excel for the key parts of the season!

Grade: A

#27 Mike Mottau:
Sweet goal in the Blues game, gotta mention that….not getting put into situations that exceed his limited talent level, but playing better now that his minutes are in the 16 a night range. Could and probably should be the odd man out if/when the defense is healthy but he’s a solid go-to guy as the fill-in defender.

Grade: B-

#5 Colin White:

Wow, who fixed his OTHER eye? He was pretty damn good this month… well until the random upper body injury (I swear we’re gonna have a guy die of AIDS and it will be just a lower body injury!).. not taking too many penalties, adding a touch of offense and looking like (huh huh…. One eye joke!) a solid second pairing guy that he’s so badly needed to be!

Grade: A-

#29 Johnny Oduya:

A mere two goals and no helpers… that’s not going to cut it, as the whole blue line seems to be slumping on the offense… guess the duck and cover theory to protect Clemmensen is affecting the offense from the back end (not to mention since NONE of these guys sniff power play time with this idiot 5 forward pp unit… it’s not the Wildcat for damn sure!), the plus 4 comes from the fact that he can play and help either one of the 2 best Devil defenders now (White and Martin)… still need to see some more offense, but I guess his average offensive numbers will make him a cheaper re-sign next year, but is a spot that could use an upgrade on this roster

Grade: B-

#24 Bryce Salvador:

Victim of the dreaded upper-upper body infected ear which slowed him down this month for sure…lead the defense in points (ok it’s only one goal and 4 assists but CMON OFFENSE!) and a +6 …. Wasn’t missed that much when he was hurt though, but that is credit to the rest of the team and not a knock on him. If you had a defense corps full of these guys, you’d be a good team!!

Grade: B+

#28 (version 2) Jay Leach:

He’s been good… real good… and it looks like he’s gonna be here to stay and Salmela is the odd guy out in Lowell (damn… almost said Albany, bet they wish we were back there… least some people nearby would care… that Carolina move’s been SUCH a helper right?) …. Played EVERY game this month and earned the right to! Doesn’t score, but doesn’t make too many mistakes and at 29 years old may be finding his groove in the NHL… looks like he could be an official Lou “find”.. excellent, quality 3rd pair defender!

Grade: B+

#2 (D-RW) Sheldon Brookbank:

Two games in December… I think both were at forward… but either way… was two too many at this point… he’s got less use on this team then PL^3 right now, and we have better depth players all over the place… can’t be sent down, not worth trading… kid’s kinda stuck being a glorified practice squad player….

Grade: Incomplete, to be generous)

#6 Andy Greene:

Hasn’t added a point in his 7 games back (gonna need some points out of him)…but he’s been pretty good and steady… stronger on the puck then in the past, but getting promo minutes on this team ain’t gonna be easy… so right now playing “only” okay on the 3rd pair is gonna be good enough to keep him in the lineup each and every night… I think he’ll get better as the season moves along…

Grade: C (the definition of being only okay)

Goaltending:
#35 Scott Clemmensen:

9-4, 2.05 gaa, 92.8%?? Wow… it is Brodeur-like… but he does it more with smoke, mirrors and some sheer shit-eating LUCK (I’ve said it before if Brodeur had his luck NO ONE WOULD EVER SCORE ON HIM)… He’s getting it done which is key… but something to look at… the Islanders Jodi McDonald was just as awesome in the first 6 weeks of the year and now looks burnt out and beaten… all the more reason to save a guy who’s never played 14 NHL games in a SEASON… forget a MONTH!!!!! Sutter better be more careful with this one or it’s gonna bite him hard in the ass….

Grade: A (where’s the assists like some other “famous” Scott goalie :p)

#1 Kevin Weekes:
This whole thing with Weekes being tossed under the bus (and some Mindy egging on) drove me to get this poor bastard’s jersey!!! This guy deserves SO MUCH better then he’s gotten this year and he’s handled it ALL with class, silence and dignity. I’ll wear his jersey proudly at my own hockey games (not to mention the Devils went 3-1 in the Weekes games I’ve worn him for!)… and each time they throw him out there.. it’s a no win situation… ok Marty’s out for most of the season, let’s throw Weekes out there to get killed while the team deals with it…just beat the Rangers in an 8-5 heart attack game that the FANS were exhausted from.. and NO WAY are they going to play up to that level the next game… go get em Kevin!!! And then to not play him in Dallas after flying from St.Louis…. it really pisses me off!! FREE THE WEEKES!!!!!!

Grade: A (for not attacking someone on sheer principle!)

Coaching:
Well they’re winning…the forwards are clicking… the defense has meshed and they play for each other (in this way the Brodeur injury is a blessing… this is now a TEAM instead of “playing for #30”)… the coaching job has been good but hardly perfect… the 5 forward pp and even worse the 6 forward “pull the goalie” look is even worse! And also to Sutter’s credit was him actually PRAISING the team once or twice this month.. looks like Mister Cranky-Pants is getting it! Sutter is starting to look like a keeper with some more polishing (but that too will be determined in April and beyond….)
Grade: B+ (they’re winning for him which is the key)