Haggerty: These aren't the same old Devils

775828.jpg

Haggerty: These aren't the same old Devils

To the casual hockey observer, the New Jersey Devils return to the Stanley Cup Finals isnt exactly a cause for celebration.

The sight of the Devils logo and uniform will elicit groans and memories of trap-happy game plans that nearly ruined the NHL.

The great Devils teams were the closest thing to hockey Ambien the NHL will ever see, and they were unfailingly proud of it.

Its a nod to the great Devils teams that hoisted the Stanley Cup three times over and dominated within rules that allowed them to strangle the daylights out of the opposition in the neutral zone.

Its the kind of consistent excellence that Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi is striving for with his hockey club on the West Coast, but of course accomplished in a different (read: more entertaining) way.

Darryl Sutter and I were walking through this building this morning and we saw all those banners up there. Thats pretty damned impressive, said Lombardi during Tuesdays Stanley Cup Final media day at Prudential Center leading up to Wednesday nights Game 1. Weve got a long way to go to get there. I know people say you cant do it in the Cap era and stuff, but I dont want to believe it.

I cant stand this fantasy hockey stuff where youve got new players moving in and out every single season. The goal is to be like the Devils with all those banners up there.

While its true the 40-year-old goaltender remains the same in Martin Brodeur as the lone Jersey holdover from previous Cup glory, this Devils team isnt your fathers East Rutherford Devils.

Theyre not even your crazy uncle Charlies Devils.

They still have Brodeur between the pipes and rely on a sound defensive system preached by head coach Peter DeBoer. But thats where the similarities end between this years Devils hockey club and their very successful puck ancestors.

The Devils have evolved and adapted from their conservative trapping style, and turned into a team equipped for a league now built on speed, youth, toughness and explosive playmaking. It was a long time coming, but then put into fast forward mode when Lamoriello engineered a deal for Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk.

I dont think thats the way we play. Were an up-tempo style and I dont think anybody would compare us to those Jersey Cup teams, said Devils defenseman Peter Harrold. We play solid defensively and thats obviously the bedrock of the organization. But I think we are kind of in-your-face, I think were kind of aggressive and were trying to push the pace of play when we can.

If people think that way about us then theyll see the difference when we play in Game 1. The Kings and our team play similar styles, so it will be a good match.

Both the Devils and the Kings are averaging a shade under 3 goals per game during the playoffs, and rank only behind the Penguins and Flyers in playoff offensive output as the only teams left in the tourney.

The Devils finished middle of the pack during the regular season with 2.63 goals per game, and enjoyed excellent offensive years from Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

The current cast of Devils players know they might be associated with the trappist ways of their Cup-winning forefathers, but that is likely going to change soon.

Nobody is going to fall asleep watching New Jersey play these days, and this team has a chance to change the Devils narrative once and for all.

The offensive players, really, they didnt say anything about our style of play certainly, but I think their styles sort of really told us without saying anything that we should open things up offensively, said Devils GM Lou Lamoriello. I think we felt it. With the young players, we had Travis Zajac, Zach Parise, Kovalchukyou have to give them what they have.

I always take offense to the teams that the people thought were defensivethose years they were always second or third in scoring. I always looked at the differential of goals that win championships. A lot of high-scoring teams can win games. I never worried about that.

From an opponents point of view, Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi sees a team thats definitely a little more down with venturing into the offensive zone.

The defense and goaltending has remained and its still important in New Jersey. I think those successful Cup teams had talent, but I dont think it was the kind of explosive talent they have in New Jersey now, said Scuderi. Parise and Kovalchuk are tremendous players that can change a game. Patrik Elias is a guy thats always gotten his point and his very skilled.

I havent seen a lot of Adam Henrique, but hes certainly added something to their top six. It seems they win a lot more now in the neutral zone moving forward in the offensive zone than they do hanging back in the defensive zone.

Lamoriello watched approvingly as Jacques Martin, Jacques Lemaire and a cast of defensive specialist coaches helped the Devils qualify for the playoffs in all but three seasons from 1988-2010. More importantly they captured three Stanley Cups in five Finals appearances during that span of consistently excellent hockey.

So trapping and playing shutdown hockey was a success, but it was also an effective strategy that was sucking the life force out of the NHL.

Even some of their current players couldnt disagree while growing up squirming in their chairs while watching New Jersey capture their Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003. But some also gladly embrace the Go ugly or go home philosophy that worked so well for the Devils during the dead puck era.

It was effective. They got results. You cant knock them for that, said Harrold. They found a way to be successful. I dont see the down side of that.

But dont say that too loudly to Lamoriello. Hes got his finger on the trap button and hes ready to push it down with authority if the need arises or if his top forwards suddenly succumb to injuries in the next two weeks while doing battle with a physically engaging Kings bunch.

We would still have that style if thats what the players here needed to win, said Lamoriello. Were going to do whatever we need to do to win. Were not going to apologize for it.

Thankfully the Devils are no longer being asked to apologize for their style of play after loosening things up offensively. The Cup Finals could very well be their coming out party for those who havent bothered to notice just yet.

Krejci, Krug aim to be ready for Bruins opening night

bruins_david_krejci_torey_krug_082916.jpg

Krejci, Krug aim to be ready for Bruins opening night

BRIGHTON – Only two Bruins players spoke to the media following the team’s first informal captain’s practice at the new Warrior Ice Arena facility, and it happened to be the two key players coming back from offseason surgery.

Torey Krug had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder shortly after last season was over, and David Krejci had hip surgery to take care of a lower body issue that had bothered him for each of the last two seasons. Both were on the ice on Monday morning along with John-Michael Liles, Adam McQuaid, Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari, though Krejci hopped off the ice 15 minutes into the session once the skating drills started to ramp up.

Similarly, Krug wasn’t taking any one-timers or winding up for slap shots while working with the puck during drills amidst a six month recovery window that’s expected to carry over into October. Both said that playing on opening night was their goal at this point still weeks ahead of NHL training camp, but a decision should be forthcoming for Krejci when it comes to the World Cup of Hockey. It didn’t sound like the playmaking pivot was going to end up competing for Team Czech Republic in the tournament, but Krejci isn't shutting the door just yet.

“It’s another day closer. I did a little bit more stuff today and I’m obviously already on the ice, so I’m kind of getting there. This injury takes time, but I like where I’m at right now,” said Krejci, who originally hurt the left hip in the final preseason game prior to the 2014-15 seasons. “Every day is a step closer. I’m excited for tomorrow. If you asked me a long time ago [about the World Cup] then I would have said ‘yes’, but right now I just want to get to 100 percent.

“If I’m ready then that would be awesome, but if not then I have to do what I have to do to be 100 percent. I’m in contact with the national team coach, and we talk pretty every week. They’re asking about my updates, so they know what’s going on. I’m sure they have some backup plan if it’s not going to work out. We’ll see what happens.”

It’s not quite as cut-and-dry with Krug, who will start slowly going into training camp while ramping up to being ready as quickly as possible. Similar to Krejci, the shoulder injury was something Krug played with pretty much all of last season while scoring a career-low four goals in 81 games. The 25-year-old D-man wasn’t using the bum right shoulder as an excuse, but said he’s looking forward to feeling good as new again as soon as possible.

“When you miss the playoffs it’s a long summer, but I was very fortunate going through the shoulder surgery that I had a lot of time to recover,” said Krug, who averaged a career-high 21:37 of ice time last season. “Hopefully I’ll be good to go for the first game. I didn’t know what to expect, but from a medical standpoint they tell me that [I’m ahead of schedule]. I’d never been through a surgery or anything like this, but I feel good.

“It’s probably a harder road, but I’m in good hands and they tell me I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m not even using my shoulder shooting the puck. I’m taking it slow and day-by-day with plenty of time still leading up to camp. It’s probably going to be a play it by ear situation [to start camp]. They said six month, so camp would be about five months. So I doubt I’ll be taking part in the physical aspect of it [to start camp]. We’ll see how it goes.”

The bad news is that Krejci and Krug had to go through surgery at all last spring, but it sounds like both aren’t going to miss much, if any, time at all for the B’s once the regular season winds up. 

Krejci more disappointed in losing Eriksson than missing out on Vesey

bruins_david_krejci_102715.jpg

Krejci more disappointed in losing Eriksson than missing out on Vesey

BRIGHTON – The Bruins held their first informal skate at the new Warrior Ice Arena on Monday morning and there were a number of players present that also took part in the Jimmy Vesey recruiting session a few weeks ago.

Both Torey Krug and David Krejci skated on Monday along with John-Michael Liles, Frank Vatrano, Adam McQuaid and Noel Acciari, and those two aforementioned Black and Gold veterans were also part of the recruiting group that met with the former Harvard captain at their new practice facility.

A few days later, Vesey spurned the Bruins to sign with the New York Rangers, and the reactions weren’t all that overheated from the B’s players. Krug played with Vesey on Team USA during the World Championships a little more than a year ago, and didn’t really begrudge the highly sought Hobey Baker Award winner choosing the Blueshirts.

“I’m not going to go into details. He had the right to do what he did, and obviously it was a smart decision to interview with all those teams and figure out the best fit for him,” said Krug. “We wanted to him here, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Now we move on, and there’s an opportunity for other guys to step in and take that spot. This group moving forward, we’re highly motivated this year.”

Krejci would have been Vesey’s center, as pitched by the Bruins management in the meeting with Vesey, but that wasn’t enough to woo him to play pro hockey in his hometown. Krejci said he was more disappointed losing linemate Loui Eriksson than falling short in the Vesey sweepstakes. The carousel of changing wingers will be moving once again for the B’s pivot.

“I wasn’t really disappointed with that guy. Obviously I’d heard he was a good player, but he has to prove himself on the NHL level. I was more disappointed that we weren’t able to keep Loui. I felt like we had some good chemistry going,” said Krejci, referencing 30-goal scorer Eriksson departing for the Vancouver Canucks and a six-year, $36 million contract. “It was tough to see him go, but I’m getting kind of used to seeing my guys, my favorite guys, going away [like] Milan [Lucic], Nathan [Horton] and [Jarome] Iginla.

“So I’m going to have to play my game, and find chemistry with whoever is going to play on my line. I did meet him, and talked to him a bit. In the summer there aren’t many [hockey] things for people to talk about, so this [Vesey watch] was something for people to talk about. Obviously there was pressure on him, but he brought it on himself, I guess. I feel like he would have been a good fit on our team, but he made the decision he did. I don’t know exactly why he made the decision that he didn’t want to stay [in Boston], but it’s his career and he has all the right to decide where it is he wants to play.”

So Vesey becomes just another Harvard grad headed to New York City to start his career, and the Bruins will likely turn to Vatrano or perhaps rookie playmaker Danton Heinen as left wing candidates alongside Krejci and David Pastrnak after Boston missed out on both Eriksson and Vesey this summer. 

 

Monday, Aug. 29: Jones settles in as ‘the man’ with Sharks

cp-morning-skate.jpg

Monday, Aug. 29: Jones settles in as ‘the man’ with Sharks

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while largely satisfied with the payoff from “The Night of” on HBO. I’m fully satisfied from watching that rather than catching even one minute of the VMAs.

*Martin Jones is still pretty new to all of this as he settles into his role as “the man” between the pipes for the San Jose Sharks.

*Alex Ovechkin is now a married man, apparently.

*A pretty good rundown on a piece about the explosion of statistical analysis in sports where so much of it is simply stating the obvious. I don’t need a bar graph to tell me a player is struggling when I can plainly see it on the ice.

*Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is optimistic that his team can overcome the injury bug to start their season defending their Stanley Cup championship.

*Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen has had a long offseason to ponder his Game 7 meltdown in the playoffs.

*This Alex Radulov era in Montreal promises to be an interesting one for both the enigmatic, talented Russian and the Habs.

*For something completely different: I’m sure pro wrestling aficionado James Stewart is a little green with envy that my Mr. Fuji tweet made the Washington Post. It was a sad day learning that the Devious One had been elevated up to the big squared circle in the sky.