Went to my first game at the Rock last night, and all I can say is “wow.” This is a building meant for hockey, it’s a building that is a delight in which to see a game, and to enjoy yourself between periods of the game. The Devils christened it properly with a 6-1 drubbing of the Lightning. How else to summarize except to point out that Jay Pandolfo, the hardest working defensive winger in the NHL, recorded his first career hat trick tonight? It was a fitting conclusion, especially since the goal was originally credited to Vishnevski (and I was screaming “Cousin!! Cousin!!” from deep in Section 21), and I can only imagine what a collection of Halloween headgear would have accumulated on the ice. On the other hand, it’s the Devils’ new den, so some scary helmets are most appropriate.
About the Rock:
From the huge logo on the floor of the entry tower, to the three-times larger than life Patrik Elias, the high school and college jerseys dotting the concourse to the murals and bits of Devils history, it’s clear you’re in a hockey arena, and one that was designed by, for and about the Devils. The only other rink that gives me that feeling is Princeton University’s Baker Rink, because it’s not about the merchandising of the game but rather the game (and team) itself. I’m not going to mind walking 4 blocks in the freezing cold, even if it’s raining or snowing, knowing what’s ahead. There is simply no comparison to any other NHL rink, because this one isn’t shared with any other team. You know the feeling you get when you come home for Thanksgiving? Imagine that 41 times a season.
Some of our ticket group buddies who went opening night told pre-Halloween horror stories about getting in and out of Newark due to construction, congestion and confusion. Using the Prudential Center parking maps off of the Devils web site, coupled with a little Googling, we were fine. The trick is to stay off of Route 21 and use Broad, Market and Raymond. Coming in off of I-280 East, take the 1st Street exit and avoid the entire Stickle Bridge construction mishegas.
Total time from Livingston to Green lot: 20 minutes. From lot to seats: 10 minutes, down a very well lit Mulberry Street. From lot back to Livingston: 25 minutes. It sometimes took that long to get out of the parking lot at Giants stadium, after waiting and standing on a bus for 10 minutes. The police were helpful, the parking lot attendants gave reasonable directions, and it was a much better travel experience than I had expected. Leaving the arena, going north on Broad Street, the police metered the traffic out of the lots, the side streets and into the 4 travel lanes on Broad to avoid backups. Cont-izod-al Arena traffic control had 25 years to work this out, and failed.
The only negative of the night (besides Oduya, but I’m foreshadowing): check out Section 118. I took that picture near the end of the first period, and there were literally five people in the entire mid-tier section. The announced attendance stood a bit north of 13,000; the capacity is over 17,000. Sure, it was Halloween, and the Devils have yet to start truly carving out their own piece of the Rock, but I’ll bet there were scantily over 17,000 butt cheeks in seats tonight. Lou must get more local support — not just $10 student tickets, but filling up the upper and end sections at a good price. If you didn’t have fun last night, you definitely were a zombie (or Tampa Bay’s Holmqvist).
About the team:
Tonight’s game was the equivalent of a coyote (one Mad Dog) pissing all over to mark its turf. The Rock has seen its first win, first hat trick, and first game by a blueliner taller than half of the Nets backcourt. I think Martin St. Louis had trouble seeing over Malmivaara’s jockstrap. We were eager to remind him of this, repeating a line from the opening sequence of “Slap Shot” perhaps a few too many times. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to hear Chico on the broadcast having a party with Olli’s pronounciation. But give the big guy his props: He may skate like Zdeno Chara, but he plays “D” like the big Bear as well, and was +2 on the night. Despite crashing into Marty while swinging the puck behind the net, he had a good opening night.
Oduya needs to work harder and just simplify his game. Standing and swinging his stick while Richards controlled the puck on the power play was the genesis of the Tampa goal: play the puck, play the body, or take away the passing lane. Can’t do all three, or try to do them, or change your mind part way through: you give up control and Richards feeds LeCavaLier (I’m going to mess up the capitalization of his name just to piss him off, Johnny Most style).
Vishnevski played well. Used the body, controlled the puck, and uncorked a bullet from the point. Even if we’re not related, he’s cool. Overall, the defense seemed to have a much better sense of where to be, and where to be going, especially in getting the puck out of the defensive zone.
Most improved award: Zubrus. He controlled the puck with his size, since he has little speed. Instead of getting caught behind the net and turning the puck over, he bulled through, finding Madden for a nice goal which Zubrus essentially manufactured out of hard work and tenacity.
On top of everything else, Brodeur looked very good — solid glove work, rolling over to block the upper part of the net when down on the ice, great lateral movement.
Supposedly the Devils ran head to head sprints in practice. Here’s my take on how the bottom of the order worked out:
1. Malmivaara. Number of letters in his jersey and overall wind resistance slow him down.
2. Brookbank. Slow but thoughtful. If he was in your English class you’d love when the teacher called on him, because he’d spend the rest of the period saying something surface-level deep, but articulated so slowly the bell rang before you realized he hadn’t read the book either.
3. Me, going at full speed with no possibility of stopping, after a good 8 or 9 stroke acceleration. And I’m the one the Friday night gang nicknamed “Slow White.”
4. The Oreo mascot, who sometimes gets to play in the “all mascot” halftime game at Princeton University basketball games. Unfortunately, he has no mascot arms, limiting his ability to play offense or balance on skates.
5. Zubrus. He’s that slow, but if he’s going to play positional hockey, use his size and his head, he can plod to his heart’s content, and I’ll even give him my spot in the speed rankings. He earned it.