The New Jersey Devils jumped out to a 3-0-0 start for the first time since their Stanley Cup-winning 2002-03 season with a 3-2 overtime win over the Washington Capitals Friday night. Despite the fact that the team is off to a fast start, and in this lockout-shortened campaign a fast start is essential, a closer examination of their play reveals that they haven't always played up to their first-place standing.
Head coach Pete DeBoer elaborated on that notion after Friday's morning skate.
I don't think there's anyone, this early in the season with a short training camp, is happy with all areas of their game. I think we stood around in the first period against the Flyers and really let them dictate the play. That can't be.
Indeed, many NHL teams, including New Jersey's Atlantic Division rivals Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, have been slow out of the gate. In fact, the Flyers notched their only win of the season with a 2-1 victory over the Rangers on Thursday night.
In their tilt with Washington on Friday night the Devils got off to another pedestrian start, getting out-shot 8-6 in the first period, including 6-1 in the opening 10 minutes. Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who at age 40 appears to be in vintage midseason form, kept them in the game by turning away all the Capitals' chances.
DeBoer praised his netminder for his solid play early in the season (via Fire and Ice): “There’s no doubt we’re not 3-0 if we don’t get the goaltending we’ve gotten. He’s off to a great start and we’re going to need that to continue."
Even DeBoer has had his rusty moments, as he took the blame for New Jersey taking two penalties for having too many men on the ice in the third period, the second of which led to an abuse of officials bench minor that was served by Steve Bernier. DeBoer acknowledged that the abuse penalty was for his comments to the officials following the second too many men on the ice penalty.
“Really, the guys bailed me out,” DeBoer said. “We had two too many men and a bench minor, so I think I’m leading the team in penalty minutes.”
Lackluster starts will not be acceptable in the coming week as the Devils' schedule gets tougher. They will play four of their next five games on the road, including contests with formidable teams like the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coach DeBoer senses that it's imperative to fix the problem now.
We’ve got to address it. I don’t know what the issue is. We’ll re-address it, but it something that can’t creep in on a regular basis. It’s been two games in a row and we need to nip that in the bud.
Despite the fact that their play has been mediocre at times, the positive is that the Devils have managed to win all three of their games. The mark of a championship team in any sport is being able to grind out wins even when the team isn't playing its best. So far, the defending Eastern Conference champions have done just that.