Devils Quarter Season Review

Discussion in 'HFNHL Talk' started by kasper11, Jan 10, 2006.

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  1. kasper11

    kasper11 Registered User

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    After a year with no hockey due to a lockout, the HFNHL promised that fans would see a new HFNHL this season. While the jury is still out on how improved the product is, the one certainty is that fans in New Jersey are seeing a new Devils team. Having missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, the last three under current General Manager Rich Epstein, and finished dead last a mere two seasons ago, the Devils have been the HFNHL's best team in the early going. With the season a quarter of the way through, lets take a look at how the Devils are doing...

    Offense: A
    The Devils are currently the second highest scoring team in hockey, averaging 3.70 goals a game. The top line of Kovalchuk, Drury, and Gaborik has easily been the league's best, with a combined 33-41-74 with an astounding +55 so far. Since GM Rich Epstein called out his second line a couple of weeks ago, they have responded, and Jason Blake and Petr Bondra now sit in the top-ten at their positions in scoring, and Recchi is not far behind the RW leaders. Still, this team is lacking balance behind those two lines as Joe Nieuwendyk is the only other forward with more than 2 goals. The team has beaten some of the leagues best, but some depth may be needed as the season goes on. The team could also use some more offense from the blueline, as the entire blueline only has 7 goals so far.

    Defense: A
    While the flash forwards such as Kovalchuk and Gaborik get most of the press, this is a team that knows how to play defense. Both Chris Drury and Jason Blake, although undersized, play a solid defensive game that allows the skilled forwards to do what they do best, score. The blueline hasn't contributed much offensively, but that may be because their role has been to stay back and shut down the opposing forwards, something that they have done remarkably well. The Devils are only giving up 2.20 goals against on under 25 shots per game. The penalty kill has struggled this season, but the team has made up for that by staying out of the box. The defense has been on display lately, blanking the mighty St. Louis Blues, and holding the league's highest scoring team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to 2 goals.

    Goaltending: A
    This was easily the biggest question mark heading into the season, and Kevin Weekes has responded brilliantly. He has been on a tear of late, and currently sits 5th in the league in s% despite starting every game so far. Weekes has had the ability to raise his game against the leagues best, as evidenced by his 27 save shutout on the road at St. Louis. The only knock on Weekes is that he has been somewhat streaky this season, twice having to be pulled after giving up 5 goals and giving up 4 to the cellar dweller New York Rangers.

    Overall: A+
    So far, the way Epstein has constructed this team seems to be working; dynamic wingers with two-way centers backed by solid defensive defensemen. Kind of hard to give a team tha that has outscored its opponents by 1.5 goals per game any other grade.

    Outlook:
    The Devils are currently at a pace to finish the season with a ridiculous 131 points. While it is extremely doubtful that they will keep this pace going, they have proven that they are a contender this season, a year earlier than was expected. Realistically, Kevin Weekes will have to be more consistent, and another source of scoring will most likely need to be found, but the Devils remain in excellent shape right now.

    The New Jersey Devils are in an enviable position, having over $5M of cap room and making a profit on the season. Add in the fact that they will almost assuredly fill several of their endorsement obligations (the team needs to play only .500 the rest of the way for one, and Kovlachuk needs only 9 goals for another) and at least 2 home playoff games, and money should not be an issue if the right deal should come along. The team also has good prospect depth both at forward and in goal and could trade a couple of youngsters away without missing much. Add in the fact that the entire team except for Murray Baron is either already signed or still only an RFA for next season, and Epstein will have plenty of opportunity to fill any needs he sees in this team.
     
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