There are two games remaining in the preseason for the New Jersey Devils. Players have been returned to their junior squads, some have been loaned to the Albany Devils, their AHL affiliate, and one player, Mike Komisarek, has been released from his professional tryout. Several questions still remain:
Who opens the door to the bench for the tired Devils skaters at the end of each shift?
In other words, who takes the spot behind Cory Schneider? Both competitors, Keith Kinkaid and Scott Clemmensen, allowed two goals to the New York Rangers in the preseason opener, a 5-4 victory for the Devils, at Madison Square Garden. Kinkaid turned aside 12 of 14 shots after Clemmensen made eight saves on 10 shots.
Two games later, Kinkaid struggled early in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders. One dozen minutes after the game started the Devils were already down 2-0, the second goal which came after a costly mishandling of the puck by Kinkaid. But instead of unraveling he showed the poise of a veteran and settled down, stopping 25 of 27 shots in the contest, including all five shots in overtime. New Jersey eventually fell 3-2 in a shootout, however.
In the Devils first preseason game on home ice against the Philadelphia Flyers on September 28, Clemmensen was the goaltender for the entire contest. Through the first two periods, he faced just seven shots but was able to mentally stay in the game and stopped them all. In the third the Flyers fired nine shots on net and Clemmensen yielded one goal, a shorthanded marker that cut the Devils two-goal lead in half. The Devils held on for a 3-1 victory, thus giving Clemmensen the first full-game victory in the preseason for any Devils net minder.
Each player has an advantage. Clemmensen requires waivers in order to be sent to Albany and already has the experience being a back-up in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Kinkaid has proven just about everything he possibly could in the AHL. Additionally, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has an alternative to play alongside Albany goaltender Scott Wedgewood if Clemmensen was claimed on waivers by another NHL team in Maxime Clermont.
When will the Mike Cammalleri–Travis Zajac–Jaromir Jagr line go from “dating” to “scoring”?
Head Coach Peter DeBoer said the line was in the “dating stage” as they try to gain chemistry as a unit. The line hasn’t scored a goal yet through the preseason but did generate some quality chances in the game against the Flyers at the Prudential Center. DeBoer said following the game that he doesn’t think “anyone’s buying any rings” right now but the chemistry is clearly starting to develop. The line had ten shots on goal as a group in the game with Zajac and Jagr each firing four shots on goal.
Will Scott Gomez become the latest Devil to officially return to the Garden State?
Gomez came alive in Brooklyn with three shots on goal and a pair of golden chances to score in the third period. He spoke to the younger players to calm their nerves throughout the game and even forced a turnover in overtime. Playing a large role on the bench and at both ends of the ice, Gomez, one of three forwards trying out for New Jersey, is starting to build momentum.
After notching an assist against the Islanders and posting two goals the following night against the Flyers, Gomez left quite an impression on Jagr, who played with Gomez once before in 2007-08 while a member of the New York Rangers. Jagr stated, “He is playing very well. He looks like he controlling the game just the way he always did, skating with the puck and making passes.”
DeBoer weighed in on Gomez’s chances about making the roster following the tryout’s two-goal performance, “We’ve got a lot of tough decisions to make and to the guys credit they are making it tough on (the staff) which is what you want.”
Is it time to say goodbye to the Devils CBGB line made up of Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, and Stephen Gionta?
Carter remains unsigned, Gionta is signed through next season, and Bernier has a one-year deal in place for 2014-15. They didn’t skate together as a line until September 23 in practice, one night after the Devils 5-4 victory over the Rangers at MSG. They played together in New Jersey’s second preseason game, a 4-0 loss to the host Flyers, and each player was on the ice for over ten minutes of ice time. Carter was on the ice for two Philadelphia goals while Bernier was only on the ice for the final goal.
Against the Flyers at the Rock, Gionta centered the fourth line where he was flanked by Stefan Matteau and Jordin Tootoo. Carter and Bernier sandwiched Jacob Josefson on the third line. Bernier had the lowest amount of ice time, 12:21, while Gionta led the trio with 14:06. Gionta (2:56) and Carter (2:27) also played a significant amount of time on the penalty kill for New Jersey. Could the high amount of ice-time simply be the cause of an evaluation about which forward(s) are worth keeping?
With Reid Boucher skating at an NHL-caliber level, the revival of Gomez, and still a logjam at forward, the CBGB era could be coming to a close in New Jersey after two seasons and one memorable playoff run.
Can Tomas Kaberle or Damon Severson land a spot on the blue line? Maybe a dark horse, Seth Helgeson, claims a spot?
UPDATE: Tomas Kaberle has been released from his professional tryout agreement.
The Devils top seven defensemen were assumed to be Andy Greene, captain Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, Peter Harrold, Eric Gelinas, Adam Larsson, and Jon Merrill. Then Lamoriello invited a pair of tryouts with NHL experience. Only one remains, Kaberle. Coupled with Severson, a star with his junior club the Kelowna Rockets, and Albany Devils standout, Helgeson, the battle has intensified for a spot on the Devils blue line.
Kaberle had an assist on the game-winning goal at Madison Square Garden and played with a confidence that his partner, Severson, relied upon. Kaberle played 25:45 and Severson was on the ice for 23:23, tops for New Jersey. Both players had over five minutes of ice-time on the power-play, where Kaberle once dominated earlier in his career.
Kaberle had a pair of blocked shots in nearly 21 minutes of ice time in the game at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. He was second on defense with 4:32 of power-play time, behind Zidlicky (4:41). Of the three, he was the only player to suit up.
Helgeson made his preseason debut in the Devils final road contest, the loss in Brooklyn, and in 20:27 of ice time he blocked a shot, registered a hit, and even had two shots on goal. Severson, meanwhile, played nearly 23 minutes and had three shots on net to go with two hits and a blocked shot. His pinching several times in the offensive zone led to Islanders odd-man rushes the other way, his only negative in an otherwise solid performance.
Against the Flyers on home ice, Severson saw 3:07 of power-play time. The Devils came to life with the extra-man, scoring two goals on seven chances, one night after also scoring two goals with the man-advantage, on four opportunities. Severson was on the ice for two goals, Martin Havlat’s tally at the Islanders the previous night, and Gomez’s second of two power-play goals against Philadelphia.
Helgeson also played against the Flyers and DeBoer had this to say about him following the game, “He gives us a little something that we lost over the summer with (Anton) Volchenkov and (Mark) Fayne leaving. He’s a big physical defensive defenseman that knows what he is and everybody is looking for those types of guys.
“He looked good both nights. I was hoping he would put another game like he did the other night back to back and he did that.”
While the battle continues in the crease, on the blue line, and up front, these five questions will likely be answered in some capacity over the next two games. The first two rounds of cuts have been made with the third right around the corner. The Devils wrap up their preseason facing both New York squads at the Prudential Center. After their preseason finale on October 4, they won’t return to the Rock for game action until their home opener two weeks, and five games, later on October 18 when they host the San Jose Sharks.
Leo is in his second year with THW. He covers the 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. You can follow Leo on Twitter, @LeoScaglioneJr.