I hate the New Jersey Devils. I’m just going to start it right there. I hate them. I hate them with every fiber of my being. Everytime I see Uncle Daddy, I feel like stepping into my TV and punching him in his fat face just to see how long his chin wobbles before it stops.
I hate them. But, they are a very good team. I picked them to beat the Flyers, despite how much is sickened me. I picked them to beat the Panthers, which also sickened me but was obviously the easiest series to pick in the NHL, despite how close it ended up being. The Devils play a very good aggressive forechecking game. They are the Easts version of the Los Angeles Kings. They get 2 guys in deep, 1 hard on the guy with the puck, 1 hard on the primary outlet pass, and they hang the center near the secondary outlet pass. They force you to make great plays to get out of your zone. They are a very good team. But, we can beat them. Not only that, I’d say this is the first series where I would say we SHOULD beat them. This isn’t going to be a series I think will be a tossup and if things go our way we should walk away with a 7 game series win. I told you before the Senators series and before the Washington series that those series were bad matchups for us. It’s not about how the team finishes, how good they are, etc. It’s about how you match up against them. We don’t match up against the Capitals, or the Senators. I think we match up very favorably to the Devils. Let’s examine the different aspects.
Unquestionably the Devils have had the better offense this post season. But, how much of this is them, and how much of this is facing teams that don’t know what the word Defense really is? Florida allowed 24 more goals than they scored. They were the epitome of outscoring your mistakes. They had some good forwards, but let’s face it. They advanced in a weak division, and lucked out that the Caps were under turmoil when Boudreau was there, and were without Backstrom and Green for huge chunks of this season. The Panthers were the easiest out in the playoffs, and it took the Devils 7 very close games to oust them. Then you have the Flyers. What do you need to know about the Flyers? They gave up 4.33 Goals per Game in the first round. The ONLY reason they advanced was because Marc Andre Fleury had the single worst playoff by a goaltender that I have ever seen. MAF was probably worse than having a shooter tutor in net. The Flyers got nothing from Bryzgalov…I mean hell, their winning goal against him in the elimination game of their series, he pretty much shot into his own net. Tried to clear the puck, shot it off of Clarksons stick, and it’s in the back of his net. Bryzgalov was awful, and the D in front of him wasn’t much better. They couldn’t do anything. Despite all that, the Flyers, who were hemmed in their own zone for much of the series, didn’t really get blown out by the Devils, they simply couldn’t outscore their mistakes. So, are the Devils really an offensive juggernaut? They certainly do put a singular emphasis on the importance of controlling the game offensively. Or is their offensive success a function of the opponents they faced? This is almost exactly the same as the Rangers lack of offense. They couldn’t score to save their lives this postseason. The Penguins scored 26 goals in the first round of the playoffs, a total of 6 games. The Rangers have scored 29 goals in 14 playoff games. Think about that folks. But, how much of that is who they played against? The Rangers played an Ottawa team that controlled the puck and transitioned to offense off of a heavy neutral zone pressure game. They had the puck, and we didn’t. Furthermore, you have to say that Craig Anderson played a brilliant series. Say all you want about Holtby, but Anderson played 10 times better than Holtby did based on the sheer volume of spectacular saves that he made. Outside of 1 game against the Panthers (Overtime game they won) Uncle Daddy has not had a great playoff. He’s been steady, but far from spectacular. Holtby and Anderson have vastly outplayed the Devils opposition. Furthermore the very nature of the Rangers game, defense first, naturally pulls the scores down, particularly when the opposition tries to play the same way, like what happened against the Caps. Games are going to be low scoring affairs when neither team allows any shots and always protects against odd man rushes. On paper it looks like the Devils have a huge advantage, but in reality I’m not sure I buy the disparity being so ginormous. In the Regular season the Devils outscored the Rangers for the season by a grand total of 2 goals. Head to head, final scores, not counting shootouts add up to Rangers 14, Devils 11. 14 goals in 6 games for the Rangers, but only 11 in 6 for the Devils. Devils offense wasn’t so dominating.
2) Specialty Teams. HUGE advantage for the Devils. The Devils had one of the most dominating Penalty Kills in the history of the game this year, and also had a much better power play than the Rangers. Outside of a few disastrous games against the Panthers, more of the same has continued in these playoffs. If the Rangers are in the box significantly more than the Devils, I think you’re going to see a very bad outcome for the boys in blue. Rangers HAVE to play this series at even strength.
3) Coaching. Rangers get the edge here. Love Torts, he’s a winner, and he’s got the 4th youngest team in the NHL playing as a higher seed against the second oldest team in the NHL. Torts has this team believing, and has been here and done that. Deboer hasn’t proven a thing yet.
4) The X Factor. For the Devils, the X Factor is Clarkson. If the Rangers can control him, keep him from being an impact in this series by both his agitation and his goal scoring, they should roll. If they can’t this could be a very bad series for us. Secondly they have to keep Brodeur from impacting the game with his puck handling. Soft dump ins to the corners or hard and high dump ins to get the opposite side winger the puck. Uncle Daddy may be the most overrated goalie in history, but he’s definitely the best puck handling goalie I have ever seen in my life. For the Rangers, once again the 2 x-factors will be Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider. The Rangers are going to need to get in hard after the Devils defenseman. That’s their weak points. Force those turnovers, and skate in hard on them. The Devils system gives you odd man chances throughout the game, the Rangers are going to need to finish on them.
The Prediction. I don’t want to get cocky and predict the Rangers in 5 or something, but that wouldn’t surprise me. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the hell out of the Devils, I just think we match up fairly favorably against them. I think Kovalchuk will keep this series close with his ability to score goals top corner. Rangers, again, in 7.