During the offseason, The Hockey Writers will be doing a ten-part series on the success stories of the 2013-14 New Jersey Devils. Despite missing the postseason for the second consecutive spring, the Devils had a memorable season that they can build upon for the 2014-15 season. The final success story focuses on the underrated and underappreciated Patrik Elias, their longest tenured player and last on-ice link to their Stanley Cup championships with the departure of goaltender Martin Brodeur.
Despite Injuries, Patrik Elias Had a Solid Season
Elias was limited to 65 games due to injury but he was still a significant force for Jersey’s Team, finishing second in scoring with 53 points behind fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr. The most consecutive games he went without a point was four and his longest point streak occurred from February 27 through March 8 in the first six games following the Olympic break. He had 14 multi-point games over the course of the season including a trio of three-point games. He had a 15.5% shooting percentage in 2013-14, the fourth highest of his career and second best of the 2013-14 team behind Adam Henrique’s 18.2% (excluding Cam Janssen’s three goals on 11 shots, 27.3%). Entering the 2014-15 season, Elias is seven goals shy of 400. Even more remarkable, he is 17 points away from becoming the 80th player in NHL history with at least 1,000 points.
In the season’s opening month of October, Elias had seven points. In ten games, but just two victories, he had three goals and four assists. One of his assists was an important primary helper on Marek Zidlicky’s game-tying goal at the Boston Bruins on October 26, the team’s first road win of the season. He would add another assist against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Prudential Center in New Jersey’s next contest but then an injury sidelined Trebic, Czech Republic native.
He was scratched for the first six games of November with back spasms but in his third game back he helped the Devils defeat a powerful Anaheim Ducks squad. At the Honda Center, where the Ducks won each of their eight games, Elias had three assists. He picked up the primary on Zidlicky’s first period power-play goal and added another 1:26 later with a secondary assist on yet another power-play goal, this time scored by Eric Gelinas. After the two goals the Devils went ahead 2-1 but the lead would be relinquished in the second period. Then with 1:01 remaining in regulation and New Jersey down 3-2, Elias, from behind the goal line, fed a stick-slamming Jagr in the slot with a pass that Jagr buried beyond goaltender Jonas Hiller. The Devils won in overtime when Travis Zajac scored a fluky goal that found its way into the net when defenseman Ben Lovejoy’s attempt to clear the puck bounced off teammate Corey Perry and into the goal.
Creating Overtime Magic a Common 2013-14 Theme
Elias had another multi-assist game when he had a pair in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Rock on November 27, the final game of a three-game point streak for the forward. He had a five-game point streak from December 4 through December 13; however the Devils only win the middle game, a battle at Madison Square Garden against the eventual Eastern Conference Champions, the New York Rangers. Elias had one point in the game but it was clutch as he picked up the primary assist on the overtime winner, a power-play slap shot by Gelinas.
Following the streak, Elias had two more games in December in which he had multiple assists but the results for the team were favorably different as the Devils won both contests, a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Newark and a 5-4 overtime win at the Washington Capitals, where he had the secondary assist on Andy Greene’s overtime winner. The other assist by Elias, a secondary helper on Jagr’s third period goal at the Verizon Center, helped make history as it was Jagr’s 694th goal which tied him with Mark Messier for seventh place on the all-time NHL list.
Elias made his own claim in Devils history a little over a month later. He scored a pair of goals at Yankee Stadium in a 7-3 loss to the Rangers but his first goal was also the first goal scored outdoors in the history of the Devils franchise. Four nights later, back indoors, Elias had the game-winning goal at the Dallas Stars when he scored just 40 seconds into overtime. It was the 16th overtime goal in his career, second all-time in the NHL behind Jagr. To date, it is also his only game-winning goal in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 season combined.
The following night Elias picked up a goal and an assist in a defeat to the Nashville Predators and would not pick up another point before the Olympic break.
However, Elias didn’t receive any break as he was selected to represent the Czech Republic at the Sochi Olympics. In three games with the Czech Republic men’s national team, he picked up an assist and finished with a +/- of +1. He missed a pair of games with an illness.
Heating Up During the Stretch Run
Following the break Elias, the franchise leader in points with 983, caught fire with his longest point streak of the season in which he picked up at least one point in the first six games. In the first game, a Metropolitan Division battle with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Elias had a goal and two assists. His second assist was a highlight as he flipped the puck over the neutral zone where it landed, onside, right on the stick of Henrique. Henrique finished the spectacular display with a shorthanded goal, his second goal of the contest. Elias tried to set Henrique up for the hat trick goal in the final minute of the game with the Columbus net vacated but his backhanded pass deflected off the stick of Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski and into the net. Henrique would still be named the First Star of the Game while Elias was the third.
Elias had a pair of assists two nights later as the Devils soundly defeated the New York Islanders on the road with a 6-1 victory. Elias would add another two multi-point games to his stat sheet over the remainder of the regular season but one had special meaning for the fans. On March 20, former Devil Zach Parise and the Minnesota Wild invaded the Prudential Center and Elias finished with a three-assist performance, including an assist on Greene’s overtime winner, to spoil the return of the Devils former captain.
From March 23 through March 29, the star forward had a mild three-game point streak but in the first game of the streak he had a highlight reel goal to add to his assist from a month earlier. Elias broke free from the Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen at the offensive blue line and deked around goaltender James Reimer for his 17th goal of the season. His 18th and final goal of the season would come in the penultimate game in a shootout loss to the Islanders at the Rock.
Patrik Elias scores a beauty of a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 23:
A Close Friend Becomes a Teammate Entering 2014-15
Just three seasons ago in 2011-12, Elias rekindled an old magic with former A-Line partner Petr Sykora when the latter returned to the Devils for the first time since being dealt to the Anaheim Ducks (then called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) following the 2001-02 season. Now the 38 year-old forward, still going strong on the ice, has another chance to play with someone special in the upcoming season for the first time in the NHL.
On July 1, New Jersey signed unrestricted free agent Martin Havlat. Havlat is from Brno, Czech Republic, a town close to Trebic. Both players are close friends off the ice and have showed a great display of chemistry when playing together, which has been limited to international play with the Czech Republic national team as well as with Orli Znojmo, a Czech-based team, during the 2004-05 lockout. Havlat’s agent, Allan Walsh, told Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger, “They played together on the same line in Znojmo (Czech Republic) during the (2004-05) lockout and they were dynamic together. They played together in the World Cup and had great chemistry. They played together in the world championships and they played well. They’re familiar with each other and they’re best friends and they’ve had chemistry on the ice.”
Havlat added, courtesy of NHL.com, “”We talked about the possibility of playing together before but it never worked out the way we wanted, but it’s happened now. I think it’s great. I’m going to the same team and to a team where I know quite a few guys, so that should make it an easier start for me.” Some of those “few guys” are fellow Czechs Zidlicky and Jagr.
When asked if this was a factor in signing Havlat, general manager Lou Lamoriello responded, “Absolutely. Patrik knows him and played with him. That will be a positive.”
If Elias’ play with Sykora from the 2011-12 season is any indication, when Elias had his highest point total (78, tied with 2008-09) since he had 81 points during the 2003-04 campaign, Elias will have a memorable and even more successful season with Havlat in 2014-15.