The Devils are off to a 2-0-0 start after wins over the Islanders and Flyers. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEWARK – Contrary to popular belief, the New Jersey Devils are not a bunch of automatons. Too much personality. But you’d be excused for thinking that GM Lou Lamoriello spends his time in some elaborate control room in the Prudential Center meticulously guiding all the movements of his players.
How else do you explain this franchise? In what has become an almost annual event, the Devils lose a major component and everyone declares this to be the year they’ll plunge to the depths of the Eastern Conference…and stay there. But there is no organization in the league that is better equipped to deal with a major departure than the Devils. And if the first two games of this young season are any indication, they’re going to be the Devils-you-know again.
The Devils are a major cockroach in the NHL’s food chain. Some hockey publications, including the one loosely referred to as “The Bible of Hockey,” projected the Devils to finish 11th in the East this season. Much of that was based on the departure of captain Zach Parise. But we should all have learned by now that the Devils do not allow themselves to lean on those kinds of crutches.
So instead of trying to replace Parise, they expect a little more out of guys such as Travis Zajac and David Clarkson. Mattias Tedenby, step right up and don’t be afraid to become the second coming of Sergei Brylin. What’s that, you’re 36 years old, Patrik Elias? Well, you scored 78 points last season, so let’s see if we can match that output. And, for the 19th straight season, it looks as though the Devils are going to ride the hot goalie. And we haven’t even talked about how much better the Devils will be when Adam Henrique returns from an injury sustained in the American League during the lockout.
“Nobody can fill the void created by Zach Parise,” Clarkson said. “Nobody can think the play the way he does. But at the end of the day, successful teams are going to see scoring come from all the lines. That’s what made us go as far as we did in the playoffs last year and we have to continue doing that.”
It also helps that the Devils are one of the best-coached teams in the league under Peter DeBoer. No team takes the middle of the ice away from its opponents the way the Devils do. That creates all kinds of turnovers in neutral ice and chances to score on the counter attack. And when the Devils get the puck in their opponents’ zone, they make it very, very difficult for the other team to take it away from them. New Jersey will always be structured because it’s become part of their DNA. With that might come the kind of hockey that isn’t always the most pleasant to watch, but the Devils are more exciting and creative than their reputation. And that kind of attention to detail leads to good things.
“Our coaches are doing a great job of making sure we’re ready and well prepared and I think that’s half the battle for us,” Brodeur said. “There’s not a game where we’re not well prepared. We knew exactly what the Flyers were going to do (in a 3-0 win Tuesday night) and we shut down the middle of the ice. So if our coaches hadn’t done their homework, maybe we would have gotten burned before we realized. But we knew it before it happened.”
Brodeur described every day as a chess match, with DeBoer wanting to tinker and dissect the game. And it shows in almost every game the Devils play. New Jersey has always bought into it because that is what Lamoriello and the coaching staff demand of them. There seems to be something about slipping on a Devils uniform that strips a man of every pretense, every bit of ego. It seems strange, but it has always worked for the Devils.
And it will continue to work for them, no matter who comes and goes.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.