New Jersey Devils Pregame: Happy Non-denominational Tidings

Craig is a Puck Buddy. This is his story. @PuckBuddys

Ohai Caps fans! Coinciding with Coach Hunter’s latest round of mind-boggling line changes, we’re changing up things today on the pregamer, too.  No, Doug hasn’t been sent down to Hershey with the other famous Caps redhead, Cody “Swoon” Eakin, but he’s taking a short break from cranking out his inimitable prose, obscure cultural references (he’s still working on Cy Twombly), and his proselytizing on behalf of the radical gay agenda.

Actually, he’s wrapping up the last of his community service obligations that resulted from his conviction in that 2011 World Juniors point-shaving scandal. And truth be told, he was also the one who bought all that liquor for those Russian kids. But luckily for all involved, including international aviation authorities, the team behaved responsibly on that flight home after their big win. In fact, we just heard from a few of our old pals on last year’s Russian team - and even they were appalled by Alec Baldwin’s airline antics last week.

The Puck Drop

The instructions that Doug scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin say this is where I’m supposed to write about hockey things and stuff. We’ll keep this light since we already kicked the crap out of the Devils and their squalid landfill of a state ahead of the November 10 tilt with those hooligans.

Like every other Caps fan, we’re wondering about what team will show up Friday night at Prudential.  We’ve been on this roller coaster for almost the entire season (the weakest 7-0 team in NHL history?) – craptacular play followed by some well executed hockey, then five steps back, followed by another glimmer of hope. The litany of problems was evident as recently last Saturday against the Avs – anemic offense, catatonic PPs, defensive breakdowns and our netminders giving up squishy softy goals.  Those terrifying lows have been followed by dizzying highs: Ovi working his magic, Sasha wristing, Nicky being gorgeous, the PP off of life support, savage play in the neutral zone and a lot of hitting.  Yeah, we like hitting. Many of those elements, on full display during Tuesday’s Preds game, reminds me of why I jumped on the Caps bandwagon in the first place.

Now some hockey. Lending an assist here is our pal Brian, @trot71 on the twitter, the Devils correspondent at PuckBuddys.  Unlike the rest of us over there who never played the game and just like to flip spit, talk trash, and flirt, Brian knows the game and plays on the NYC Gay Hockey Association squads.  Forget Ken Daneyko, Brian is “Mr. Devil, ” devilishly handsome, too! Brian summarizes the first third of the Dev’s regular season:

This first third has provided something of a relief to Devils’ fans – there were fears they would come out of the gate as poorly as they did last season, which may have led to a fire sale of talent and a commitment to rebuilding.  Instead, there have been some young contributors (rookies Adam Larsson and Adam Henrique)  play vital roles on the veteran-dominated team, and increased scoring under first year coach Pete DeBoer.

All I Want for Christmas

Zach Parise (Jeff Zelevansky)

According to Brian, “Top center Travis Zajac‘s return was a little early to call a Christmas present, but it’s everything the Devils could have hoped for.  Travis has come back and looked fairly good, which will present DeBoer some lineup problems going forward, but the good kinds of problems (too many good players for the top 6 forward slots).  If there was one wish every New Jersey fan has, it’s that Zach Parise signs a long term deal with the club in January. If there’s no ink on a contract and the team continues to sit at the tail edge of the playoffs, look for GM Lou Lamoriello to deal Captain Zach to a contender for a king’s ransom of talent.  (But my money’s on Zach staying a Devil).”

The Naughty and Nice List, Festival of Lights Edition

Nice: Jeff Halpern: Haply Hanukkah, everyone! The hometown boy put in a great effort on Tuesday, the first night of the holiday. Hockey’s Hebrew Hammer also put Leonsis ahead of God on opening night against the Canes on October 8, Yom Kippur. We’ll check the schedule to see what day Purim falls on.

Nicer: Alexandr Valeryevich Semin:  ‘I’m not sleeping, I’m sniping!” Leave it to the Great 28 to confound and confuse us with his erratic play. When he’s good, he’s magnificent; when he’s bad, he’s infuriating and when he boards an opponent, he’s the best!  And while we’re at it, can everyone get a jump on their New Year’s resolutions and forever swear off “enigmatic and mercurial.” Both the Associated Press and the Washington Post used those exact words to announce the death of Kim Jong Il. We are NOT making that up. Russian influence on the world stage cannot be underestimated, but look at what lazy hockey writers have done now – they’ve dragged our dear Sasha into a nuclear tipped, geopolitical game of brinksmanship, when he’s got his hands full on just backchecking as it is.

Martin Broudeur

Naughty: Old Man Winter: Martin  Brodeur is just not elite anymore.  He looked shaky for great stretches in last Tuesday’s 4-1 loss against the Rangers.

Nicer: Swedish Meatball: Johan Hedberg is playing much better hockey than Brodeur at this time and should probably be getting the bulk of the starts.

Nicest: Awesome Possum:  The stunning Zach Parise has been leading the Devils offense this month, with 14 points (5G 9A) in the 10 December games.

Nicely Nicely Neuvy: Baby Czech Michal looks to be getting the start on Friday night and one of the smart guys we follow on twitter, but are contractually prohibited of mentioning his name, wondered about when the last time Vokoun has sat for four games. Then there’s the theory that a strong Neuvy makes Vokes better. Those same geniuses may be the ones who keep telling Rick Perry he has a shot at the nomination.

What Makes Them Hot

Ilya Kovalchuk

The Devils top line offers something for everyone, an All-American boy (Parise), the mysterious Russian (Ilya Kovalchuk) and the young buck (rookie Adam Henrique).  And they’re clicking – they’ve combined for 13 goals and 22 assists in December.

What Makes Them Not

Their power play has been beyond substandard.  They aren’t last in efficiency or power play goals scored, but they’ve given up a whopping 10 shorthanded goals, tops in the NHL (four teams are tied for second with five SHGA).  They have a remarkable ability to cough the puck up from the points (currently Kovalchuk and newly-acquired Kurtis Foster), leading the shorthanded chances for the opposition.  If their power play wasn’t so awful, more people might be talking about the Devils insanely good penalty killing, which has only given up 9 power play goals all year (while scoring 7 SHGs themselves).

As Seen On TV: If you need our help telling you where to find the game on TV, you’re a sad Christmas puppy.

Meme of the Day:

Let’s Go Caps and God Bless us, every one! С Рождеством! (Merry xmas)