2010-11 NHL season preview: New Jersey Devils

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ilyakovalchuk6.jpgLast season: (48-27-7, 103 points, 1st in Atlantic Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference) The New Jersey Devils won another Atlantic Division title while acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk before the trade deadline only to get pounded by the Flyers 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs. Despite winning three Stanley Cups in their history, the post-lockout Devils are starting to earn a reputation as a team that is great in the regular season but can’t get it done when the games matter the most.

Head coach: John MacLean paid his dues by going through the Devils system, so now he’ll get his shot with the big team. Things didn’t go so well in Jacques Lemaire’s second stint with New Jersey and the team recently got burned by Brent Sutter, so the Devils must hope for some stability behind the bench.

Key departures: D Paul Martin, G Yann Danis, F Rob Niedermayer, F Dean McAmmond, F Jay Pandolfo and whoever leaves to clear cap space. The biggest loss was Martin, a player who struggled with injuries last year but was often one of the team’s top two defensemen. The other guys are depth players, but whoever leaves to make room for Ilya Kovalchuk – most likely Brian Rolston, Jamie Langenbrunner or a mid-level defenseman – will probably be the second biggest loss.

Key arrivals: F Ilya Kovalchuk, D Anton Volchenkov, F Jason Arnott, D Henrik Tallinder, G Johan Hedberg. OK, I know Kovalchuk came over last deadline, but his signing was such a headache that he makes sense here. Volchenkov is a valuable defenseman, but he’s coming at a hefty price and his shot-blocking style might make him a likely candidate for the IR. The trade to land Arnott smells of nostalgia, but he can bring some offense. Tallinder is a solid but quiet defenseman while Hedberg did well as a starter in Atlanta, yet might not be more than adequate as a backup. Overall, the Devils improved themselves.

Under pressure: When you are the focus of two months of tedious contract banter (and receive a $100 million contract), then you better deliver, so Kovalchuk is under big-time scrutiny. Zach Parise is also under quite a bit of pressure to drive up his own price in the last year of his bargain contract, while Martin Brodeur needs to win in the playoffs before people start giving up on him.

In other words, there’s plenty of pressure to go around.

Thumbnail image for martinbrodeurglance.jpgProtecting the house: Brodeur is the all-time leader in wins, shutouts and HEbaG (Hamburgers Eaten by a Goalie) and is about as automatic as death and taxes. He still puts up great stats year in and year out. Chances are the no-brainer Hall of Famer will play his typical ton of games because Hedberg is nothing more than an average backup.

On paper, their defense is uninspiring but the Devils’ system tends to camouflage many flaws. Volchenkov might be an upgrade on Martin as far as pure defense goes while Tallinder is another steady upgrade. If the Devils can keep Bryce Salvador, they have a decent trio along with the occasionally mistake-prone but rugged Colin White. The Devils struggle in the playoffs because they lack a true shutdown defenseman, so maybe Volchenkov will be worth those big bucks.

Top line we’d like to see: Kovalchuk-Travis Zajac-Parise. Sometimes, you get what you want, which is the case of the “ZIP” line. They’ve been tearing it up in the preseason, so don’t expect to see a lot of this trio in the regular season. Patrik Elias isn’t chopped liver in Zajac’s spot, either.

Oh captain, my captain: Jamie Langenbrunner might end up getting traded from New Jersey, but he’s a solid lead-by-example type who should maintain his captain status if he avoids a swap. Lemaire being out of town is a big plus in keeping him happy.

Street fighting man: Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond – rather than discussing his fighting merits, just watch this two-plus minute bout with Cam Janssen.

Best-case scenario: The “ZIP” line becomes the best scoring line in Devils history while Elias and Arnott are inspired to defend the honor of the Elias-Arnott-Petr Sykora line by putting up great depth offense, too. Volchenkov helps the Devils put together their best defense since they lost Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens in rapid succession. Brodeur shakes off his playoff struggles and the Devils win yet another Cup.

Worst-case scenario: The Devils falter in the playoffs while Kovalchuk justifies all the “once a loser, always a loser” fears by putting up empty numbers in the regular season but struggling when it counts. Worse yet, the Devils allow both the Penguins and Flyers to pass them in the Atlantic Division so they don’t even have a division title to heal their wounds. Brodeur shows his age with a below-average season.

Keeping it real: The Devils are a top-heavy team that should be great in the regular season, but what about the playoffs? Arnott and Kovalchuk are one-dimensional players while Volchenkov puts himself into consistent danger by blocking shots (even though that’s just what he does). Brodeur has a lot of mileage, so that whole 70-starts-per-year thing might not be so wise any longer.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and a five being the best, they get a 5. They have some flaws, but every team has its blemishes. The bottom line is that this is the best Devils team in ages, one built to win now or (almost) never.

Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay

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It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.

Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.

Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.

At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Not that it slowed him down any.

Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.

“He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.

“And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday to force a Game 7, now the St. Louis Blues will try to do the same against the San Jose Sharks tonight. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

St. Louis at San Jose (9:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. If you want to stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

In the meantime, here are some relevant links:

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday

Colorado inks defensive prospect Anton Lindholm

LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 07: Anton Lindholm #5 of Team Sweden skates against Team USA during the 2013 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 7, 2013 in Lake Placid, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After establishing himself in the Swedish league, Anton Lindholm will head to North America.

The Colorado Avalanche announced that they have signed the 21-year-old defenseman to a three-year, entry-level contract. They selected Lindholm in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

More of a defensive defenseman, Lindholm only registered four assists in 30 Swedish league games with Skelleftea AIK in 2015-16, but he also had a team-high 85 hits despite missing a chunk of the season due to injury. During the playoffs he helped his team reach the SHL Finals by leading them in both hits and blocked shots.

That was his second full campaign with Skelleftea AIK. The next step for Lindholm will likely be for him to continue his development in the AHL.

PHT Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby eyes more history

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks to face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Bob McKenzie shares his memories of Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie, who apparently was a big hockey fan. (TSN)

Don Cherry discusses John Brophy’s toughness after the former Leafs coach recently passed away. (Sportsnet)

 

A look at Vincent Lecavalier‘s career. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

The perils of flip-flopping goalies in the playoffs … although it worked out for the Penguins at least last night. (The Hockey News)

Speaking of which, will the Blues get burned for switching back to Brian Elliott in Game 6 tonight? Here’s a preview:

Sidney Crosby has a chance to join a very rare club of clutch goal-scorers if he can win it for Pittsburgh in Game 7: