2011-2012 season preview: New Jersey Devils

2010-2011 record: 38-39-5, 81 points; 4th in Atlantic, 11th in East
Playoffs: Did not qualify

The New Jersey Devils had one of the worst starts to a season any team could imagine. They also had a rally of extreme proportions that got them back into the race for the playoffs, but ultimately fell short. With Jacques Lemaire gone and Peter DeBoer in as the new coach, the Devils hope they can return to the postseason.

Offense

The Devils are always a team focused on defense, but this team can put pucks in the net when healthy. This season they’ll have a surgically repaired Zach Parise to join Ilya Kovalchuk as the team’s top two offensive threats. Elder statesmen like Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus hope they can give leadership to youngsters like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson who could be major contributors. The Devils will have to sweat out the absence of Travis Zajac to start the season. Outside of these guys, however, there’s not much going offensively in New Jersey.

Defense

Defensively, the Devils are virtually the same as they were last year. They’re led by Andy Greene and Anton Volchenkov with Henrik Tallinder as the veterans. Young guys like Mark Fayne, Matt Taormina, and Mark Fraser round out the group but the focus will be on 2011 first-round pick Adam Larsson and how well he can adapt to the NHL right away. His experience playing in the Swedish pro league will help and make him a potential Calder candidate.

source: Getty ImagesGoalie

Martin Brodeur is the be-all, end-all here once again. At 39, he’s on the backside of his career and he can’t quite be the workhorse he has been in the past … can he? With 38 year-old Johan Hedberg backing him up and things being a bit thin in the Devils’ system in goal, they’ve got to pray that Brodeur can have at least one more great year. Even Brodeur being average by his standards will mean good things for New Jersey. But if his age and health catch up to him … look out.

Coaching

Peter DeBoer enters his first year behind the Devils’ bench after being dumped by the Florida Panthers after three losing seasons there. Replacing Jacques Lemaire is never easy in New Jersey because a bad stretch could just mean that Lemaire or GM Lou Lamoriello comes out of the woodwork to do things their way. No pressure there at all.

Breakout candidate

Aside from Larsson, winger Nick Palmieri shapes up to be the guy that could help the Devils the most. After a solid rookie season and appearance with Team USA at the World Championships, Palmieri is poised to seize the day as a key contributor. He’s got good size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and showed a knack for the net with nine goals in 43 games last season. Getting a good season out of him will help balance out their lines.

source: Getty ImagesBest-case scenario

Parise and Kovalchuk each score 40 goals while Travis Zajac returns and becomes a top setup man in the middle. Larsson is a revelation on the blue line, streaking forward to a Calder Trophy season. Brodeur stays healthy and goes back to the well with one more brilliant Vezina nomination-worthy season and the Devils ease into the playoffs without stress.

Reality

Parise, who was recently named captain, will have a big season. He’s healthy, looks fast and sharp on the ice and he’ll take the pressure off of Kovalchuk to carry the burden of the offense. The defense gives reason to pause, but the Devils and their system always find a way to make it work and hide any deficiencies. We don’t want to say it all boils down to how Brodeur fares, but that’s how it almost feels. The Atlantic Division is brutal to play in, however, and none of those games are going to be easy. It’ll be a round of rock ‘em-sock ‘em robots to get into the playoffs for the Devils.

The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

Highlight of the night:

Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

MISC:

Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

-The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

-Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

Factoid of the night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Canadiens 1

Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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