Tag Archives: langenbrunner

Not With A Bang But A Whimper

This is the way the 2010-2011 hockey world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper (and apologies to T S Eliot).

For the first time since we began following our hometown hockey boys, there is no April joy, no second season, no reason to start watching out of market games because of their scheduling implications. The only things left to do are cheer against the Rangers and watch Zach Parise improve in his last four games before free agency.

As badly as the season started, there were so many things of which to be proud since mid-January. Patrik Elias was on fire, skating perhaps better than before the lockout season, and finishing in the slot as well as he did in 2001-2002. First hat trick in five years – against Philly, a team he just pwns – is evidence enough. Some real chemistry on the lines was a positive. Going 24-4-2 over a 30 game stretch; more than a third of a season of close to perfect hockey in every imaginable shape and form. And yet there were disasters as well: not correcting the trajectory before the season was out of hand (whether it was MacLean, Langenbrunner, or some combination of them and other factors we’ll never know, but I’m personally hoping Dallas goes deep so the Langebrunner trade yields a prospect). Injuries to the defense left us with three freshmen on the blueline nearly the whole season. Colin White’s play improved tremendously once Lemaire was back, and then he was repeatedly scratched with a nagging injury down the stretch. Salvador is gone. Taormina is recovering. There’s such potential there with Volchenkov, Tallinder, and Green all healthy at the same time.

With a long off-season, here’s hoping the Devils stay in shape and train through the warm months. That they come back in September hungry, wanting to never feel this way in early April again. That the echoes of Montreal’s fans signing “Hey Hey, Goodbye” resonate and reverberate, and remind them of what preparation and conditioning and team play can deliver or deny. It was a tough year to be a fan, and yet the last third of the season saw some of the best attendance at the Rock since the buiding opened.

Personally, I’ve yet to watch a baseball game or take out the golf clubs, subconsciously not wanting the miracle of the last two months to end, never wanting to see a wizardly Jacques Lemarie behind the curtain frantically telling us to pay attention to the flash and not the reality. But reality has set in, and for the first time in 15 years, I’m sorry to see the arrival of summer.

Taking Lazy To A New Level

The Devils are not going to make the playoffs because they are a lazy team. Even if they get a few wins in a row, it’s not enough to offset the institutional laziness that has become acceptable on the ice.

Exhibit A: Ilya Kovulchuk does not skate hard to the end boards with four minutes left in a one-goal game. He lets the defenseman beat him to the loose puck. Again. He should be skating as hard as he can, playing the body, and gaining control.

Exhibit B: Forty seconds left and Langenbrunner dumps the puck into the zone, while Elias is in full stride on his wing. “Keep your head on a swivel” is a mantra for youth and high school players, but when you wear the “C” on this team it’s no longer necessary.

Exhibit C: On the first Penguins goal, Colin White doesn’t fill the slot, and lets Kunitz take a one-timer uncontested. If Zubrus had skated hard back into the play he may have had a chance to break up the feed from Crosby. Zubrus glides over the blue line; his body is upright and relaxed as Kunitz releases the shot. On the game-winning goal, White doesn’t bother to notice that Crosby was behind him, untouched. The Devils seem to watch the puck movement more than the MSG cameraman, but hockey plays develop in the space away from the puck. What’s even sadder is that White is playing some of the best defense on the team.

There are very few cures for laziness, other than bringing in a coach that makes the players ride the bikes for an hour after an effort like the last few. Or who dumps a bench on the ice. Or who demands that his players play the game with a modicum of respect for their leaders, their staff, their fans and themselves. What the Devils are doing now is taking lazy to a level that induces nausea.

How Not To Start A Season

The Devils are off to their worst start in 27 years. As far as I’m concerned their 1-4-1 record is an overstatement. They’ve lost five games and haven’t won a game in regulation yet this year. Their inability to score goals is a sign that something is very wrong with this team, and with the talent that was paid for this summer, it’s not pure capabilities.

Kovulchuk is out of place on the right side. He belongs on the left side. The very pretty goal he scored on Friday night came on the left side and involved footwork, stickwork and a slick wrist shot, all from his preferred angle of attack. Part of the reason Kovulchuk is turning the puck over more than shooting it is that he’s not used to that side of the play. Move Elias to right wing (Elias has played all three forward positions, with success, in the last few seasons), and use Parise and Kovulchuk as left wingers. Why is this so hard for Maclean? Is it any wonder the top line isn’t producing?

The power play seems better than last year, but still miserable. If guys are standing around, nothing will happen. You either create space by moving without the puck or create time for the play to develop by moving with it.

Brodeur needs to be told he’s 38 years old and cannot play back to back games. He looked miserable last Saturday night in the second half of a weekender, and he looked just as bad tonight. This is the test of a coach – get Brodeur to behave like a team member and not a spoiled, selfish player.

Light a fire under Langenbrunner to start leading by example, or rip the “C” off his jersey. And trade him. Anywhere for anything, just to remove the cap hit. Josefson was skating with purpose, finishing checks, and moving on every shift. Langenbrunner lollygagged back to the puck during a 5 minute major power play last night. If he’s not going to skate fast and start the play, nobody else will either. Have a closed door meeting. Better yet, just stop the nonsense that started during last year’s playoffs. It’s horrible to watch, and it sends the wrong message to his teammates, the fans, youth hockey players, and just about everyone else.

For all of the ownership’s self-congratulatory noise about their “Jersey Tour” this summer I haven’t seen one thing to improve attendance. Where are the day-game cheap tickets (if there are tickets left for Capitals games, you can buy them for $10 once the puck drops)? Where are the promotions to get first-time fans to the Rock? Where is the fan outreach? Stupid in-game production where fans start cheers are annoying at best, and do nothing to fill the 5,000 empty seats a night. Friday night you had your choice of seats in Section 118. There were maybe 14 people there, and nothing but empty rows above them. What message does it send to the players when they look behind the opposing goalie and see black chair backs?

This season started going down hill when ownership insisted on doing the Kovulchuk deal. Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled he’s a Devil and think he’ll gel well with the team over the next few weeks. But running a professional sports team isn’t about doing a “big deal” like a Wall Street bank or law firm. It’s not about attention and being a Master of the Universe. It’s about building a winning team and a winning tradition, so that you have a fan base that passes on loyalty, pride and respect for the team like family heirlooms.

If we’re going to keep Kovulchuk with his $102 million price tag, other players have to go to keep the team balance. That means ownership has to tell Lamariello that White must go, even though White was a big part of two cup teams — 8 seasons ago. White looks miserable next to Taormina. He’s not helping Urbom, and he takes stupid penalties because he’s not in the play quickly or strongly. Ownership has to get Langenbrunner to either step up or step out, because he’s exuding negative leadership. That’s the hard work of running a team, and it’s everything that the big press conferences isn’t. But it’s time the Devils got a team effort from the front office to the box office.

Pathetic Devils Effort

Why are Colin White and Mike Mottau together? On the winning goal, Colin White (a) followed his guy behind the net (b) reached, leaned and otherwise made lazy swipes at the puck and (c) left Mottau to remember to cover the weak side (oops). These two don’t belong on the ice at all, let alone playing first pair defense. The same dumb mistakes re-inforcing each other. It’s like the cyclotron of stupid. The particle accelerator of bad defensive plays. Who needs the Large Hadron Collider when you have these two ejecting pucks to the Flyers at near-relativistic speeds?

Will Elias hold on to the puck? Patty, we love you, but shoot the puck, control it, and more crisp passes please?

I’m laughing that Kovulchuk believes this post-season will help set his market value. It will, but his stock is taking it in the shorts worse than Goldman Sachs right now.

Langenbrunner either needs to step up and get pissed off, like Scott Stevens, or step down as captain. Amazing that the biggest emotional outburst from him all season was when Lemaire sat him for a game. Go listen to some more emo music, maybe that stack of Coldplay albums and Dave Matthews whining will help you find a way to get your teammates to step up.

No shots in the last fifteen minutes of regulation is a sign that either the wrong guys are on the ice, or the right guys are on the ice too long. Stop juggling the lines, let guys know who they’re skating with, and then demand that they produce. Or sit them. Why is it every coach gets this except Lemaire? No forecheck, no pressure, no movement. If you don’t create time and space, all you do is drop back and set up a shooting gallery for Marty – an appropriate description of tonight’s game.

Pair Mike Mottau with whoever else is in the press box on Tuesday. It’s a must-win game, and he’s a must-move player.

And finally, Devils fans – can we please sell out a home playoff game? I know it’s hard to cheer for an effort like the one tonight, but if we come back to the Rock even up, Game 5 matters. Let’s support the team. Then everyone who paid for a ticket can join in the call for White, Mottau, Langenbrunner, Kovulchuk and Lemaire to collectively figure out which end is the one they’re supposed to shoot in.

I don’t mind watching the Devils lose games. It’s a game, it happens. I hate to see them lose games when they look like they’re already packing it in. That’s not what professionals are supposed to do, and the lack of professional effort is flat-out disturbing, from behind the bench to lazy plays behind the net.

Marty looked great. Without him, it would have been a 6-2 drubbing. I know the Devils haven’t won in Philadelphia since my hair was all black, but three of the remaining games are there. Figure it out.

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Heartless and Winless

The Devils have become impossible to watch. Guys standing around, falling down, or making passes that are blind, ill-timed, or just flat-out stupid is not competitive hockey. It’s not even good hockey. It’s disheartening.

If I were GM and coach for a day:

Langenbrunner loses the “C”. Where is the leadership on this team? Where are the guys standing up for Salmela and Salvador? No wonder nobody wants to put in the extra effort, because no teammates will get their backs.

Langenbrunner gets benched until he learns to connect a pass. He is a turnover machine. Passes into the middle are dumb, blind passes are dumb, taking an extra step is dumb. Watch Kovulchuk pass. All of his assists are on sharp passes, not accidents.

Get a defenseman, now. It’s clearly not White, Mottau or Fraser. Salvador and Salmela are hurt, or rotate being hurt. Get someone who can control the puck at the blue line, who can clear the crease, and who plays with passion.

It’s just amazing that the Devils have blown three 2-goal leads in a week and a half. Since New Year’s Eve, they haven’t played a single, solid three period game. The glaring, stupid errors are like watching a badly coached beginner’s team. They aren’t a bunch a forty-something asthmatics (like me) playing at 11:00 PM on Sunday night; they’re supposed to be professionals. What they’re doing borders on gross dereliction of duty.

10 points out of 30. 33% point conversion, compared to 75% earlier in the year. I think fans go through a process like grieving: first we’re in denial (it’s only a three game losing streak), then angry (waive White! Marty plays too much!), then we bargain (Kovulchuk!). What’s next? Acceptance of this style of play? I don’t know of any fans that enjoy watching a high-calibre team play so far below its potential, night after night, creating new ways to lose games. Please, act like professionals. Put in the work, for a full game. Beat a team that’s streaking in the opposite direction. Or save me money on my playoff tickets.
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Hello Kovi, Watch Out Ovi

The Devils have (a) made a trade worth talking about (b) landed a superstar (c) dealt a jolt to the team that is likely make them focus. It’s not just about the players, it’s also a statement of what Lou expects from his team and their efforts, and what he’ll do when he’s pushed to the point that coaching can no longer correct.

First things first: Hello, Ilya Kovalchuk. Woo-hoo! Love this guy. Complain all you want (or all Chico wants) about his backchecking and defensive coverage, because it’s completely beside the point. The guy is a pure sniper, great skater, and creative on the ice. The Devils’ offense of late has shown all of the inspiration and soloing capability of Cheech and Chong’s band (“We only know three chords!”) with Jerry Channel of Boston’s Neats on vocals (nicknamed “Mono-man” by the hip press in Bean Town). Pair him with Zajac and Parise, or with Elias, and he’s even more dangerous. Add to that the cultural aspect, which I think is far too often down played: Kovalchuk is a Russian, will be a good influence on Zharkov, and can speak a bit of mamalushen with Zubrus and Elias (Elias, like all Czech students of his time, was required to learn Russian in school. Not sure if he still speaks it, but probably can recall enough to holler “Shoot, you ugly lunkhead” in the mother tongue).

Second: Lou made the comparison to the Mogilny trade before I even got on the computer. At the time, Mogilny was one of the best shots in the league, and he delivered in 2000 when the team needed him. We loved Mogilny, especially what appeared to be a good influence on Elias. We are going to heap equal adoration on Kovi.

Third: Oduya hasn’t been the same player since he got hurt. Bergfors was great in the first twenty games and now looks like he realized he skipped a grade and suddenly doesn’t remember all of the math he was supposed to have brought with him. As for Cormier, Google on “Daigle” for what’s likely an equivalent story minus the head shots. That’s it? No Zajac, no Clarkson, no Martin? And they got back Salmela in return? This is a great trade for the Devils. I like JohnnyO in so many ways, but I like Kovi more right now.

Overtime: If this doesn’t send a shock through the locker room, I don’t know what will. It means that if Lou goes shopping for another blueliner, other guys who aren’t stepping up are likely to be shopping for apartments in the hinterlands. It changes the dynamics, the lines, the friendships. Shocks like this can be explosive, further fragmenting a team, or they can be concussive and help the guys stick together a little better. Let’s see what Langenbrunner does with his latest teammates.

Prediction: Deeper Cup run, and a player who can go head to head with the Washington snowman.

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How To Beat The Devils

The Devils have gone from mildly upsetting to tragic. It’s Shakespeare on ice without the clever anachronistic puns. It hurts to watch, like the guy who wipes out on the ski jump slope during the intro to “Wide World of Sports” for those of you alive in the 1970s.

Here is the young person’s guide to beating the Devils:

1. Play 20 minute periods. The Devils don’t. Not even close. Between late goals in the Toronto game on Friday, and then coughing up two goals in the last 90 seconds of tonight’s travesty against Los Angeles, there was a goal with less than 30 seconds left in tonight’s game as well. This isn’t pee-wee hockey.

2. Take flagrant penalties. The Devils power play is 3 for 31. There was a stretch a few years ago when it was 4 for 100, and with the current 0-for-25 spurts we’ve seen, that’s easily equalled. If Langenbrunner is going to continue to make ridiculous passes into the middle when there’s no red jersey there, take him off the point. Put Oduya there, at least he can shoot the puck.

3. Get behind by two goals. Twice against Toronto, and then against Los Angeles, two goal leads held up about as well as a house of hockey cards in a nor’easter.

Lou lost out on the Phaneuf lottery, although I’m not sure he was a prize worth winning. But there are plenty of other defensemen who can shoot, move the puck, have a modicum more hockey sense than Mottau and White (combined) and know to clear the crease when the goalie is screened on a power play.. Maybe this is pee wee hockey.

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Everybody Skates New Jersey Weekend

This weekend is a big one for USA hockey: it’s the annual Hockey Across America when USA Hockey stimulates interest in the sport, from youth to professional levels. With the Vancouver Olympics a mere two weeks away, there’s palpable excitement about hockey around the world. Next week also brings the beginning of February, the start of the NHL’s annual “Hockey is for Everyone” diversity emphasis. It’s a big deal of a weekend for snowmen of all shapes and sizes.

Coach Jon Schwartz of the NJ Dare Devils special hockey program is leading the “Everybody Skates New Jersey” cross-Garden State tour this weekend, building on the Hockey Across America and diversity themes. There are 54 rinks in NJ, yet very few offer special needs hockey programs. What Coach Jon and the ESNJ team are asking is simple: each rink should set aside one hour a week for special needs hockey, and as the program draws attention, it will become self-sustaining. The Bubba and I have personally seen the great things done by the DareDevils players and the program, and we’ve been proud supporters for the past several years. At the same time, the DareDevils program is growing, and everyone would benefit from more, local programs that get players involved as mentors and junior coaches, get the rinks involved in the community, and provide more opportunities for special needs players of all jerseys to find a place to play.

The weekend starts Friday morning at the NHL Store on 6th Avenue at 46th street in Manhattan; it then continues to visit every one of the 54 rinks in NJ over the next 54 hours, ending at The Rock on Sunday afternoon when the Kings visit the Devils.

Get involved:

Come to the NHL store and meet EJ Hradek and Bill Daley on Friday, where 20% of the morning’s sales will support special needs hockey.

Visit the web site or Coach Jon’s blog. Follow @54in54 on Twitter.

Sign the petition supporting the ice time allocation for special needs hockey. Join NJ Devils Colin White and Jamie Langenbrunner who have lent their digital sharpies to the cause.

Come see the Bubbas at the Ocean Ice Palace in Brick, NJ, on Sunday morning around 9am, when we’ll be joining the tour for the home stretch.

Remember that NJ’s autism rate is among the highest in the nation, with about one in 94 kids diagnosed along the spectrum of autism. As the common Facebook status thread reads, kids with autism don’t want to be cured, they want to be accepted – what better way to demonstrate acceptance than in one of our most tribal groupings — joining a team. We need more teams for these prospective hockey players to join. That way everybody skates.

Powe, Right In The Smacker

Once again Princeton University graduate Darroll Powe put one past Marty, and that’s what it took to unravel a pair of winning streaks. Powe scored on opening night as well, seemingly deflating the Devils out of the gate. Tonight’s goal wasn’t the turning point (it was Van Riemsdyk’s goal that Marty didn’t see in the 3rd), but it definitely showed which was the ice was tilting.

The problem with streaks is that after a while, people pay more attention to the statistics than to the end goals (playoffs, player development, fan attraction, financial management). Better to pick up points consistently than to be streaking one way or the other – averaging 1.25 points per game (or about a 63% points efficiency) is usually enough for a good playoff seeding. I’m not upset the streak of away wins or consecutive wins ended, as the Devils were close to 90% point efficient. You’re going to lose games, although I wish they weren’t to the Flyers.

Much more concerning to me: Darroll Powe basically walked onto the Flyers. Here was a kid playing less than an hour’s drive from the Rock, and the Devils didn’t chase him? He looked like he had the Devils defense scrambling for half of the last three minutes of the game tonight, simply forechecking strongly enough to keep Brodeur in the net. Madden and Rafalski were the oft-discussed “undrafted” players; the Devils draft has produced some huge winners (Parise, Bergfors) but their ability to spot talent outside of the fresh-faced set should be just as good, and it hasn’t produced in the past five or six years.

Even more concerning: schedule compression. Devils lost in their third game in four nights, and fourth in six nights. That’s incredibly tight game timing, and it’s a result of taking a few weeks off for the Olympics. I’m betting it’s one reason there have been a rash of serious injuries to marquee players, and it should be a sign of caution for the banged-up bodies (Niedermeyer, Pandolfo, Martin, Oduya, Elias to a lesser extent, Langenbrunner to a bit) to focus on strong, rather than fast, returns.

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1980 Over My Shoulder

I’ve been looking for a bit of writing inspiration lately — blogging has been slow, I haven’t had the energy or creativity to devote to working on the hockey book, and work has been, well, more than a job. Perhaps it was the rainy day today, or perhaps it was the fact that I got the urge to clean up my office (it happens, usually once every 3 or 4 months). About two years ago I managed to find an autographed 1980 Olympic Men’s Hockey Team jersey, with silver autographs of gold medal winners, all save the late Herb Brooks. There was a fairly large set of them released around the 25th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, and one ended up in my jersey collection. I finally had it framed for my birthday this year (thanks to my mother in law) and it quite simply looks nicer than the motley collection of Devils swag on my “jersey wall.” As much as I like my BC jersey with Gionta’s handwriting, the Jay Pandolfo jersey I won in a raffle, the Patrik Elias jersey with a really funny autograph (before he got serious about signing his name) and a Scott Gomez/Jamie Langenbrunner dueling penmanship sample, they just didn’t “feel” right.

The Talking Heads’ David Byrne once said that art is something you should rotate, something you should like, not permanently mount on your wall as if it’s part of the building. I think jerseys fit that profile even more tightly than paintings or posters; jerseys each tell a story, have a life or a background, give you a snapshot of time and space. Give or take a few years, the Miracle on Ice marked the first third of my life; becoming a father to a son who would later help me rekindle my passion for hockey marked the second third. There’s a nice symmetry in that, and perhaps the backwards looking perspective will get me motivated to work on the next big forward looking projects.

Sometimes you need to change your focus, and that’s what I did in hanging the 1980 sweater over my left shoulder.