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DeBoer’s task: Get Devils back to playoffs again
Question of the Day
The playoffs? That was a mere formality for the three-time Cup winners, with the only unknowns being whether the Devils would win the Atlantic Division and where they would be seeded in the Eastern Conference for the postseason.
That’s all changed heading into this season. New Jersey missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 1996 and there is no guarantee that new coach Peter DeBoer can get them back with a team that has some talent but a lot more question marks.
Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg give the Devils a pair of goaltenders entering the twilight of their careers. The defense is suspect and there are a lot of questions about the offense despite having one of the league’s top goal scorers in Ilya Kovalchuk.
Zach Parise has shown the ability to be a top goal scorer, but he is returning after missing most of last season with a major knee injury.
“The key here is to play with confidence,” said Kovalchuk, who scored 31 goals, with most coming after Jacques Lemaire replaced rookie coach John MacLean in December with New Jersey in last place. “When you do that, you can manage the game more in this system. That’s so important for us.”
The players seem to like DeBoer and his system of pursuing the puck, dictating the pace and playing solid defense.
“This team is a lot of fun to coach, and there’s been a good atmosphere around them,” said DeBoer, who was fired by Florida last season after failing to get the Panthers to the playoffs in his three seasons on the job. “The road to a roster spot for a lot of these guys is still a long one, but we feel like we’re off to a good start.”
The 39-year-old Brodeur posted a 23-26-3 mark in 56 games last season, and is uncertain whether he will ever return to the days where he played 70 games a season, especially after Hedberg played well in his backup role.
“It’s still training camp, and we’re still learning how to play with each other and get a chemistry going,” Brodeur said. “It’s different around here now, for sure, and chemistry is always a big thing with a new system.”
New Jersey has high hopes for Adam Larsson, the Swedish defenseman who was the fourth pick overall in the NHL Draft in June. He is an offensive defenseman who has shown ability on the power play, but it is uncertain whether he will make the final roster.
General manager Lou Lamoriello would rather have a player get more seasoning in the minor leagues or in junior hockey rather than push him too soon.
The nucleus of the defense will be centered around veterans Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador, who missed all of last season with a concussion. Mark Fayne, Matt Taormina and Mark Fraser also are expected to play but one may not be around if Larsson makes the team.
“The game plan is simple,” Salvador said. “Just to get right back at it. We have a lot to prove, and a lot to make up for. We don’t have time anymore to worry about what happened to us last year.”
By Michael P. Orsi
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