The New Jersey Devils have had the best start possible to the 2013 season, which is obvious by their 2-0-0 record, but is that good start because they have out-played their opponents or have they out-smarted them? It could be possibly both, but (my) gut feeling says the latter. Aside from the absence of Zach Parise, Alex Ponikarovsky & Petr Sykora, this is the same group of players that overcame a lot of adversity last season in the playoffs:
1) Winning 2 elimination games in OT in the opening round vs. the Florida Panthers to advance.
2) Winning 3 straight against Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist & the New York Rangers to advance to the Finals.
3) Winning 2 straight in the Finals against the LA Kings after dropping the opening three contests.
Bryce Salvador believes that structure helped them survive a strong start from the Flyers in the second game of the season/home opener. “We hope so; we hope that it’s a little advantage for us out of the gate and we’re seeing that a bit,” he said after the game. “The first period we just skated and were lucky we got through it. Once we got (our game) going, then you could see that everything started clicking again. We hope it’s an advantage (going forward).”
When asked about having basically the same squad, Martin Brodeur agreed that it could be a nice early-season advantage for the Devils. “I think so, I think we came across adversity in the playoffs last year and the guys on our team stepped up and answered in different ways. So we know each other, what each guy will give or bring to the table. It makes it easy to trust, the trust factor is there right away.”
He also realizes that despite them having to travel the fewest miles in the league, it still will be a strange season. “We just have to keep building it, and it’s going to be a tough year, but so far it’s a good start for us.”
“I found the simple life ain’t so simple. When I jumped out on that road.” — Van Halen
One of the problems Devils’ teams have encountered in past seasons is complacency, but coach Peter DeBoer has possibly found a way to keep this group of players on their toes. “When you hit that comfort zone that’s when it gets dangerous; I think our coaches have done a great job with that — making sure that we are ready and well prepared,” explained Brodeur after shutting out the Flyers in the home opener.
“That’s half the battle for us; I think there isn’t a game that we aren’t well prepared. The Flyers, they decided to play a certain way early in the game and we knew exactly what they were going to do. We were able to shut down the middle of the ice, a play they were trying with (Claude) Giroux and their centermen,” Brodeur detailed to the five media members as if he were the coach teaching the winning formula to his team. “And you know what, if the coaches didn’t give us lessons or homework about this maybe we would have got burned before we realized it. Instead, we knew it before it happened and that’s the coaching that, with a team like ours is important. Guys are ready and we’ll do that every game.”
Salvador, the new team captain, feels the transition into that role has been as seamless as possible and he hasn’t changed his approach at all. “It’s a great feeling (to lead) a great group of guys, they make it fun and that’s important. It makes it that much easier to come in here and represent them. It’s an honor.”
He’s been a Devil for six seasons now, and for Brodeur, that familiarity makes his job a whole lot easier than it was the first few seasons after the 2005 lockout. “This is the first time in I don’t know how many years that I have the same people in front of me as far as my defensemen (from one season to the next). For me, that’s a huge deal; when I was younger it seemed like I always played with the same guys.”
Think of the names that were in front of him some seasons after Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko and Brian Rafalski all retired or departed: Mike Mottau, Colin White with a compromised eye, Niclas Havelid, Karel Rachunek, Dan McGillis, etc. “So now I think we are creating that stability back there,” said a smiling Brodeur, “and that makes it easy for me: I can read the guys, I know their tendencies and what they are going to do in situations and that helps me a lot.”
At the end of the season none of this could matter at all, there could be injuries, trades, and also slumps. So far through two games Travis Zajac and David Clarkson are on track to score 48-goals, as they each have scored in both games. Highly unlikely to happen, but there is certainly a greater chance that a tight-knit group of players, many of whom have a sour taste in their mouths after coming so close to winning the Stanley Cup last year, will continue to silence their doubters and be a serious contender to win it all.
One thing is certain: it will be a bizarre 48-game season for every fan and every team with plenty of “I didn’t see that coming” moments. Buckle up and get your popcorn ready!
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.