Haggerty: These aren't the same old Devils

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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.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL. 

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

BOSTON – Many times this season Tuukka Rask has bailed out the Bruins when the team was at less than their best.

Monday afternoon was not one of those times as the Bruins goaltender was knocked out of the game after two periods on the way to a listless 4-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders. Rask allowed three goals on 15 shots in the game’s opening 40 minutes, and was responsible for a very soft goal during the Isles’ three-score barrage in the second period.

After the game Rask wasn’t ducking responsibility for the subpar performance, and admitted he was simply beaten to the short side post on a bad angle shot from Islanders forward Josh Bailey for the soft-serve special.

“I was just late. I picked the wrong seal. It’s one of those [goals] that I should have stopped,” said Rask. “Claude [Julien] mentioned [not taking the Isles lightly] before the game, and the last game we played here they got us. It was a bit of a flat game again last time, and we just woke up too late today. We didn’t want to underestimate them. Any team in this league is good even though the standings might show otherwise. We just never got it going.”

Rask was being kind because the Bruins never actually woke up at all in the first B's shutout loss to the Islanders on home ice in franchise history, and that includes when the Finnish netminder was yanked after the second intermission.

Julien’s act of pulling Rask from a 3-0 game was clearly designed to spark the struggling hockey club, but it did nothing to breathe life into a dead hockey club that simply allowed another goal playing out the string in the third period.

“There are two things that can happen. No. 1, you hope you can spark your team because of the performance in front of him,” said Julien. “If it doesn’t spark your team, [at least] you’re not wasting your number one goaltender’s energy.”

One would expect that Rask will be back between the pipes on Wednesday night against the Red Wings in Detroit, and in hindsight perhaps this Monday matinee might have been a good time to see what Zane McIntyre has to offer as the backup. Instead it will go down as an “off” game for Rask and another inexcusable no-show on home ice for the Black and Gold.