New Jersey Devils: How Does 2013 Team Compare Against 1995 Cup-Winning Devils?
That was the year the franchise captured its first Stanley Cup championship, the first of three over a nine-year span.
Currently all is not in orbit in the Devils’ universe. They are losers of six straight games. After an 8-1-3 start, New Jersey has fallen to seventh in the conference, just two points ahead of the ninth-place Flyers. They are very fortunate to be part of several “three point games.” Five of their losses have come in overtime or the shootout.
That being said, the ’95 team did not dominate the regular season either. The Devils mounted an inspired playoff run built upon a dominant 23-year-old goaltender and swept the Detroit Red Wings in the final.
Let’s compare the two teams and see what we find.
Similarity: The Goaltender
A lot of things have changed since 1995, but one player remains and he plays the most important position in the sport.
A 40-year-old with a back problem is a cause for concern even when he doesn't play a demanding professional sport. Fans and personnel have to pray that this is just minor soreness.
Assuming he is healthy and the Devils qualify for the playoffs, then they will have a major weapon between the pipes. Claude Lemieux may have won the Conn Smythe, but that first cup was courtesy of Martin Brodeur. His .927 save percentage and 1.67 goals against average were phenomenal.
As we saw last spring, he is still capable of those types of playoff runs.
I have to reiterate: That back had better be okay.
Like I said, the ’95 Devils did not take the regular season by storm. They finished fifth in the conference with a modest 22-18-8 record. Until the Kings won last season as an eighth seed, that Devils team was the lowest seeded team to win a Stanley Cup.
The current team figures to finish in a similar position this year. They are certainly good enough to make the playoffs, but I’m not sure they can win the division. A middle of the pack finish much like 1995—and last year, for that matter—is the trajectory this team is on.
And like we saw in ’95 and last year, that is not a bad thing. With Brodeur in goal and a winning culture in the locker room, this team is capable of making a deep run.
The 2013 Devils have a deep, dynamic defensive corps. It is a strength of their team. That being said, they don’t compare to the blue line of the 1995 team.
That unit was absolutely stacked. Scott Stevens is a Hall of Famer and was the on-ice leader. His hit on Eric Lindros was the defining moment of the playoffs. Scott Niedermayer, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame upon eligibility, was a 21-year-old playmaker from the back line.
Not to mention Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver, Tommy Albelin and Shawn Chambers.
Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky and the gang are good. But not that good.
Both teams were built around defense and goaltending, but the '95 team had a bit more punch to its offensive game.
They did not have an all-out sniper the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk. They featured a balanced attack of guys who had the knack for scoring big goals. Stephane Richer led them in points in both the regular season and postseason. Claude Lemieux scored huge goals in the playoffs. Neal Broten, Bobby Holik and a young Bill Guerin were guys who had to be accounted for.
Stevens and Niedermayer had the uncanny knack to jump into the play as well.
This Devils team lacks scoring depth. Steve Bernier is third on the team in goals, and that is not a good thing.
This team is undeniably in a funk right now. It doesn't look good to prognosticate a Stanley Cup Final appearance. But like the '95 team, they have the leadership and personnel to get there.
Remember, 22-18-8 is not all that impressive. Neither is the sixth seed the Devils finished in last year. Both times, the Devils rose to the occasion and put it all together just at the right time.
When considering the six-game losing streak, do not underestimate Martin Brodeur's absence—not just between the pipes but in the locker room as well. He has a calming effect over his teammates, especially the younger guys.
Dainius Zubrus is a veteran leader whose personality is missed as well. If Brodeur is healthy and Zubrus can return, this team can ride a veteran goaltender and a deep forecheck a long way.
They do not have the talent the 1995 team did, but they did not last year, either.
A lot depends on a certain 40-year-old back.
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