Tag Archives: oduya

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.

[ad#Google Adsense]

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.

[ad#Google Adsense]

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.

[ad#Google Adsense]

Turning Point Redux

Some nights the hockey viewing stars just don’t align, or they aren’t meant to align. I found the Devils-Penguins game on the Vs network here in my California hotel, just as I was getting ready to go out for a company dinner. I saw enough of the second period to develop a fear that the Devils were reverting back to the disorganized play that led to disasters last week against teams not in the Western Conference cellar. As I went into the hotel lobby, Jordan Staal made it 3-1 Penguins, and I mentally checked out.

But thanks to the wonders of NHL Wireless, I continued to get goal by goal updates. An Elias goal to halve the gap; a Clarkson goal to tie it, and then the winner in OT. Getting these updates on the West coast often means I get two or three duplicate messages, but I don’t mind clearing the SMS backlog when the Devils win.

Lots of minor thoughts:

Elias was pissed after his penalty that led to the opening Penguins goal, and he played like someone was threatening his wine collection, manhood or both. I don’t remember seeing him play with that much fire since the Rangers playoff sweep nearly two years ago.

Oduya had a reasonable game, aside from his own penalty. Vishnevski was on for all three Pittsburgh goals, one of which caught him in the shinpad before bouncing by Marty. If you can’t help the goalie, get out of his way.

Perhaps Jay Pandolfo tried to do too much first game back — on the PK, up against a still-tough although Sid-less top Pens line — and he looked a bit out of sorts. He was also on-ice for all three Penguins goals, and didn’t take another shift after last one, with about 15 minutes left in regulation.

NHL.com now has a slick little feature that shows you the player’s name if you hover your mouse over the player number in thegame summary page.

A three-way tie for first is a good thing, especially when it could have been three points to Pittsburgh and two to Philadelphia. One some level, I feel that whatever happened around the 5 minute of the third period was a turning point, definitely in the game, maybe in the back half of the season. There’s just a huge mental advantage to winning a game in which you had to overcome a pair of 2-goal deficits, and the Devils had been on the wrong end of that one multiple times in January. The Devils earned tonight’s win on the basis of hard work. Now if we could only see that spark against the Rangers and Islanders.

First Rock Impressions

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.

Positional Mess

I’ve attempted to follow some of my youth hockey guidelines and wait close to 24 hours (ok, twelve hours) before saying anything about Saturday’s game. At this rate, the emotional roller-coaster resulting from watching Devils games is going to either result in significant weight loss (I’m so riled up I can’t eat junk food) or significant health defects (high blood pressure, stroke, hoarseness, shortness of breath, and blunt object trauma on the wall where the TV sits). No matter how you slice it, the Devils are a positional mess right now. I can attribute some of this to a “change in system”; when you go from a trapping style to one in which offense and puck movement is more important (and if someone says “western conference offense”, please move there), it’s going to take time to figure out who picks up which assignment. And despite what Brent Sutter says about the long road trip not being a factor, it does eat into extended practices. This isn’t the kind of thing you pick up in a morning skate before a game; it’s one or two hours of repeating the same positional drills (interspersed with sprints) until the defense pairs learn to talk to each other. Fortunately, the Devils have booked a long practice today (sorry if you were expecting to go to public skating at South Mountain, but Brent and his boys have usurped the pond).

The ever-fun folks at 2 Man Advantage point to Oduya as the root of many of our defensive worries. They’re mostly right. Take Guerin’s last goal as an example. Normally, defensive positioning is for the strong (puck) side defenseman to play the puck carrier in the triangle formed by goalpost, edge of the trapezoid, and some spot in the face off circle (depends on how big/fast the defenseman is, and how good the wingers are at coverage down low). His (or her) partner should be on the weak side (where the net is left partially uncovered by the goalie, who has shifted to square to the puck carrier). Watch Guerin’s goal – granted it’s on a power play, but with two D out there, Martin and Oduya, somebody wasn’t in position. Martin has the winger camped on the strong side, and Oduya is chasing behind the net. Guerin had just gone to Subway and was enjoying a toasted sandwich on the weak side, probably contemplating which of the desserts he’d have once the puck came to him. Either Martin and Oduya weren’t talking, or Oduya botched by chasing behind the net. With under 10 clicks left on the clock, you worry about the puck getting in front of the net. As coaches from Mites to Midgets say to the kids, “Nobody can score from behind the net, let’em go there.” Who cares if the clock winds down with the puck behind Weekes, but not surrounded by twine?

Defensive positioning, part two: Of the four Devils penalties, three were on the defense. If you have position, you won’t be tempted to hold, hook, grapple, or land a boarding party on the opposing wing. Strength helps, too (Let’s all send Paul Martin barbells for the holiday season, so that Satan doesn’t barrel over him again).

The positioning problems show up on offense, too. 18 blocked shots? 3 of them from Elias (who at least had 4 that went on net)? Either that’s too much point-bombing or one pass too few (yeah, yeah, yesterday I complained about one pass too many, but that was different).

I dunno. I’ll wait another game and see what happens with the Rangers. At least I can yell at Gomez and the Devils D without switching channels (increasing the likelihood that the remote control goes airborne).

Lonely In The Slot

Vinny Lecavalier was quite lonely in the low slot, waiting for a pass from Prospal that turned into tonight’s game-winning goal. Listening to the game on XM radio (sometimes rental cars aren’t thoroughly horrible) I could only get the Lightning version of events, but it didn’t sound so great for the Devils. Sutter commented after the game that there was a lot of “standing around,” and if it’s possible to hear nothingness on the radio, I did. Devils sounded good in the first, adequate in the second, and then deflated in the third. I think Oduya is showing some of the form that got him scratched in the playoffs.

It’s only one game. But it’s an opening night loss, and in a game that the Devils should have won. Coupled with the Yankees smelling like old cheese, and the fact that the Rangers managed to score one goal for each of the fingers I gave them in the third, it wasn’t a good night for this fan. The only solace: Gomez stayed off the Rangers’ scoresheet.

Practice Makes Perfect Endings

I ended up with a free half hour yesterday, thanks to an unusually quick doctor’s appointment. Seizing upon the good fortune, and the proximity to South Mountain Arena, I popped into the last half hour of the Devils practice. Watched the first power play unit work out a bit, and saw lots of practice on play below the hash. Heard some shouts when shots missed wide, and it’s a good sign when it’s someone other than the coaches doing the yelping. As the players were leaving the ice, Elias fired two buckets worth of pucks into the net, one-timing a store’s inventory of rubber with perfect consistency. It was a thing of beauty to watch.

Practice makes perfect. We say it to our kids repeatedly, and we mean it. With tonight’s game against Montreal tied 1-1 deep into overtime, the Devils had a face off in the attack zone. Gomez won the draw, to Rafalski, to Elias, who just exercised the muscle memory from yesterday. A thing of beauty to watch, especially with a lonely snowman — all of 8 seconds — left on the OT clock.

Elias has 5 points in 3 games in a 6-day span. Zajac is playing Calder-quality hockey, but the rookie to watch is Johnny Oduya. Quick hands, quick feet, and a great view of the ice. It’s remarkably hard to find out anything about him, other than he was drafted by the Capitals in 2001, and never signed a contract, playing in his native Sweden instead. hockeydb.com shows only two players with that surname, one of whom happens to be his brother, Fred “Knuckles” Oduya. So if he says his brother used to fight with him, there’s some circumstantial evidence to that effect. Aside from showing up with 3 assists and a handful of penalties in online reports, he’s hard to find via search engine (the brotherly love reference was 3 pages Google-deep).

Here’s the tip-off to why he’s a winner — I asked him for an autograph as he was leaving the ice (which he gladly provided), and he gave me a look like (a) he was surprised I knew his name (b) he was surprised someone wanted his autograph and (c) that it was pretty cool. Thanks, Johnny, it was pretty cool of you, attitude and style wise.