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.

Vatrano takes 'step in the right direction' in return to practice

Vatrano takes 'step in the right direction' in return to practice

BRIGHTON, Mass -- The Bruins lost Matt Beleskey for six weeks to a knee injury this week, and now they’re hoping to get another winger back now that 22-year-old Frank Vatrano has rejoined the Bruins at practice.

Vatrano was wearing a red no-contact jersey at Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, but his presence along with the other players at the team skate means that he’s moving closer toward a return to the B’s lineup. While initial timetables for his recovery from foot surgery had him in the early January range for returning to the Bruins lineup, it appears that he might be at least a couple of weeks ahead of that initial expectation.

Either way Vatrano is happy to be back on the ice with his teammates after the torn ligaments in his foot wiped out his training camp and the first two plus months of the regular season for him.

“It was a big step for me today. It was nice to be out there with the guys for the first time,” said Vatrano, who scored a combined 44 goals last season for Providence and Boston in a breakout season with the B’s organization. “I’ve gone through the rehab and done everything I need to do to get back playing, so now the next step is getting back on the ice with the guys. I felt great, so now it’s just waiting to hear the news when I start playing again.”

While Vatrano is still a young, relatively inexperienced player with just one full year of pro hockey under his belt, the sense from the Bruins is that he’s going to help a team that’s currently ranked 25th in the NHL in offense. Claude Julien was encouraged by seeing him out there in the red, no-contact jersey that his teammates were chirping him about, and said that his level play at last spring’s world championships should give him confidence when he jumps back into a big role with the Black and Gold.

“It’s a step in the right direction for Frank. That’s the best way for him to get to the pace of our game because it’s going to take a while when you’ve been out that long,” said Vatrano. “I think his experience at world championships last year is a real blessing in disguise because he gained a lot of confidence there. I think that’s going to help him a lot more than had he not gone.

“He played against a lot of elite players last year, and he fared really well. I think he’ll be coming in now with some confidence, and we just have to sure coming in that we give him every opportunity to succeed by using him properly, and giving him a chance to find his game.”

That certainly sounds like the Bruins are preparing for a top-6 role and maybe some power play time once the young, sharp-shooting Vatrano is back up to full speed. That should be fun to watch once he’s ready to play, and ready to again unleash that shot and release that rivals anybody else for tops on the Bruins roster. 

Spooner on trade rumors: 'I definitely want to play here'

Spooner on trade rumors: 'I definitely want to play here'

BOSTON -- Ryan Spooner has definitely heard the reports out there that he’s being shopped in trade by the Boston Bruins, and he played like a guy that didn’t want to be moved in Monday’s win over the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.

Spooner had his good skating legs, created chances for his teammates and set up the third period goal that got the B’s into overtime when he flipped a shot at the net that was tipped in by David Backes while camped out around the crease. Spooner finished with an assist and a plus-1 rating along with five shot attempts in his 14:24 of ice time, and looked much more like the energized, creative player that was at the heart of some pretty good offensive things last season.

In other words, Spooner looked much more like the talented young player that finished with 13 goals and 49 points last season while centering the third line.

“I think there were five or six games there where I felt I wasn’t playing a bad game. Then six or seven games there where it was hard to get, I guess, the ice time that I wanted,” said Spooner. “At the end of the day, I’ve been a little bit inconsistent.

“I just have to go out there and use my speed and my skill and I found that in the game here. I thought that I did that and I just need to play with that, and I should be fine.”

Multiple sources have indicated to CSN New England that the Bruins are talking about a possible Ryan Spooner deal with multiple teams including the Carolina Hurricanes, San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders. Part of it is certainly the need for the Bruins to collect a bit more goal-scoring as Monday night’s win was just the eighth time in 26 games this season that Boston’s offense has scored more than two goals.

Part of it is also, however, a challenging season for Spooner where he’s been in and out of Claude Julien’s dog house while getting dropped to the fourth line at times, and even being left off the power play a handful of times as well. He’s played out of position at left wing rather than center and has underachieved to three goals and nine points in 25 games largely played with David Krejci and David Backes.

Whatever the history and the number of potential trade scenarios, Spooner said was “fed up” with all of it in his own words as he headed into Monday night’s game, and one thing remained true above all else: He wants to stick around as a member of the Bruins.

“I try to just put it in the back of my mind. When I was 17, I went through the same thing [in junior hockey]. I definitely want to play here,” said Spooner. “I want to help out and that’s kind of where I’m at now. If I play like I did [against the Panthers], I think I’ll be fine. I just want to go out, I want to help out, and that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

The Black and Gold are looking for a top-6 forward capable of putting the puck in the net on the trade market in any possible deal involving Spooner, but it would seem that the 23-year can control his own destiny in Boston if he starts generating offense and putting the puck in the net. Spooner did just that on Monday night while setting up a third period goal, and lo and behold the Bruins offense posted four goals after struggling to get more than two for most of the season.

That could turn into the kind of trend that keeps Spooner in Boston if he knocks out the inconsistency in his game, and instead steps on the gas pedal and brings the speed and skill that got him to the NHL in the first place.