A couple of weeks ago we had a feature with Bird Watchers Anonymous. I enjoyed getting the opposing teams perspective and therefore I was quick to jump at the opportunity when John from In Lou We Trust asked me to do it for the game today.
I asked John some questions about the Devils and he was kind enough to respond. Follow the jump to see his answers to my questions.
After dropping their first two games right out of the gate, the Devils have rebounded to win six of their last seven. What have they done differently in the last seven games that they weren't doing in the first two?
It isn't so much what have they've done differently, as it is that they are picking up on what Jacques Lemaire wants to do with the team (e.g. defensemen lead the breakout, mixing up forechecking schemes, etc.) and the team just playing with more confidence. In the first two games of the season, the Devils were awful in the first game and tentative in the second. In retrospect, it was like they couldn't respond quickly enough to their opponents and that only created a cycle of misery. Since then, the Devils have dug deep, grinded out a few wins, and now the team seems much more cohesive, the intensity level is higher, and they have no fear of any team in the league now.
Despite the Devils 6-3-0 record, they have not had much success at home. What is the biggest difference in the way they play at home as opposed to on the road?
The biggest difference is that in their 3 home losses, the Devils were eventually pinned back into an unbreakable cycle of conceding possession on clearances, not capitalizing on what few offensive chances they had, and basically letting the other team dictate the game, or at least enough of it to determine the victor. The pressure got to them. On the road, I don't think that's the case. Therefore, the team has played with more intensity and, for lack of a better term, reckless swagger. They care not if they are down by 2 goals to Washington, or they gave up a lead in Tampa Bay, or that they are facing a team who won 9 straight games. The Devils don't change their game plan too much - just their lines, really - but overall, it is as if they have less pressure on the road. Now that the Devils got a home win, hopefully that carries over into the Rock.
Zach Parise is off to another great start with six goals and 12 points in only nine games. We already knew that he was a great player that would be of concern to the Sabres. What other Devils players should we be watching on Wednesday night?
There are three players to keep an eye on. First, there is Travis Zajac. Last season, Parise, Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner were an offensive force to be reckoned with. This season, Lemaire has broken up that line more than a few times, and the two main drivers of that line - Parise and Zajac - continue to produce. Zajac has became stronger on and off the puck, he's solid on faceoffs, he plays in all situations, and he displays good playmaking and shooting skills. He may not necessarily be centering Parise, but he will grab your eye with his excellent play. I swear, if Parise wasn't on the team, he'd be the hot, young, rising star on offense in New Jersey.
Second, look out for Nicklas Bergfors. After putting up 24 shots in 7 games, he finally got 2 goals in his last 2 games along with 6 more shots on net. The rookie loves to go to the net, he loves to shoot, and he's definitely feeling good now that he finally produced. I'm not sure who will center him - it has either been Dainius Zubrus or Zajac. Either way, look out for him on the second line.
Third, Rob Niedermayer is primarily known as a defensive center, who has played wing in his previous seasons with Anaheim. He's back at center, he's actually doing well on faceoffs, and he's not just making stops but he's got 2 goals and 4 assists from the third line in 9 games.
Martin Broduer is one of, if not the best goalie of all-time. He is getting older and is coming off a major injury last season. Is he showing any signs of slowing down?
Nope! After the first two games, where he let in some soft ones, he rebounded with some massive performances on the road trip. Since then, he's been looking real good. He picked up his 102nd career shutout against Carolina two Saturdays ago and he continues to make key stops against all opponents, most recently against the Rangers (29 for 31) and Pittsburgh (32 for 33)
It's prediction time. Devils or Sabres?
This will be the first Devils game will be without Paul Martin and Jay Pandolfo due to injury - their top defenseman and a top penalty killer, respectively. Two big blows to the team. That said, I think the Devils will rally together and pull out a win to show that all is not lost for the next 4-6 weeks. It'll be close and low-scoring though, 2-1 NJ.