Tuesday, April 16, 2013

If the reports are true

Well, if the reports are true (and I've heard it from multiple sources), the Devils not only get to play in an outdoor hockey game next season, but they get to be the "home" team in one as well. It'll be against the Rangers on January 26 (a Sunday, 7 days before NJ hosts the Super Bowl). But here's the catch. It's in New York City. The Bronx. At Yankee Stadium. Yes, the Rangers will be the "visiting" team for a game within their own city limits (while they still have those limits all to themselves) when they play the Devils. The Devils will be a "home" team for a game that's really hosted by their biggest rival. I don't really like this.

Let me touch on the full set of news for a second. There will be six (count 'em...6) outdoor games in the NHL next season. I don't really understand why that is. New Year's Day will be the first, in the "Winter Classic" game in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on New Year's Day, between the Red Wings (their 2nd outdoor game) and the Maple Leafs. I like that matchup. Canada has hosted the "Heritage Classic" game twice (both involving the Montreal team), and they'll get one more (though I haven't heard the name "Heritage Classic" used, but none of this is official anyway) when Vancouver hosts Ottawa. I can live with that one too. I don't think that makes the novelty of an outdoor game watered down in anyway, especially if there isn't one every season (2003-04, 2010-11, and now 2013-14).

But wait, there's more. January 25 will see a game at Los Angeles's Dodger Stadium between the 2 teams local to that area - Kings against the Ducks. I just have to say "Good luck, NHL" with that one. Los Angeles doesn't strike me as an outdoor hockey hotbed. Maybe the fans think they deserve it, I smell a disaster keeping that rink in playable shape. If it matters, it will be a 1pm PT start, so it doesn't conflict with Hockey Night In Canada, which starts at 4pm PT, and a night game in LA would be too late for the viewers on the east coast.

Then there's the game the next day at Yankee Stadium between the Rangers and Devils. But wait, there's more. The Rangers and Yankee Stadium get two games. 3 nights later, on a Wednesday night (NBCSN's Wednesday Night Rivalry series), the Rangers will play the Islanders. I've heard that the Islanders will be the "home" team for that one too. There's a lot of this that smells fishy. But more on that in a second.

The day before the outdoor game in Canada, the Blackhawks will become the second two-time host (after the Rangers, who host both of theirs earlier in the season) when they host the Penguins (a 3rd outdoor game for them) in a game played at Soldier Field (that will make the Blackhawks the first team to host an outdoor game in two different stadiums - they hosted at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day 2009).

So where do I begin? The NHL is completely watering down the novelty of the outdoor hockey game in a total money grab. It's evident that it's become a money grab (and even a money hog because there's lots of teams NOT involved) because they're going to the non-outdoor hockey market of LA, 2 games in New York, 6 games total (it really should never be more than 2), and so many repeat offenders (when it's all over, Pittsburgh and the Rangers will have played in 3 while Chicago will have hosted twice and Detroit will have played in 2 games). I don't even know which of these is the biggest offense. What about Minnesota and Denver and Winnepeg (the only Canadian team not to play outdoors yet)? I'm not saying that every market is suitable for an outdoor game. Washington should get a game. There is no reason why the Devils and Islanders can't actually host games in their own territory and not in "Rangers country". Columbus? St. Louis? All certainly should have a shot at playing, if not hosting the once-a-year event.

Now, I heard that the Rangers are getting two games so that both the Devils and Islanders can be included and that neither one is excluded. The Rangers already played in an outdoor game. They're just a team that thinks they're entitled to this since they play in the biggest market in the league. Getting to "host" two games so their in-market rivals won't feel left out sounds very hypocritical since it now means that they will get more than either of their rivals (when they've already had some to begin with). And if it's true that the Rangers will be the "visiting" team in both games played in within the city limits in which they are currently the only team to call home, then that's one helluva money grab by James Dolan, who runs MSG and the Rangers. More proof that this is all about the money and not about the hockey nor the novelty. Just like Chicago getting another game and getting repeat offender Pittsburgh to play them.

I think after probably 2 outdoor games next season, people will stop watching because it's no longer a novelty. Hopefully it goes back to the once-a-year thing on New Year's Day in 2015 (NBC's contract has it running every New Year's until 2021) and that the novelty is back and peoplewatch it, because if the NHL ruins a good thing by over exposure in 2014, well, that will become their problem because we won't be watching.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Devils Have Problems

I just looked at my blog and saw that I haven't written since the home opener. I've been throwing in thoughts on twitter, but not a full blog post. I was actually sick for most of the winter, missing several games (and going to others while still "sick"). I also had a poorly timed vacation that took me away from the team for a while. But I'm back for the home stretch, and if work doesn't kill me over the next few weeks, I think I'll be in for the playoffs (and I think the Devils players can say the same thing).

But I was at the game last night, as well as a sprinkling of games this season, sitting in my seats in the back of Section 124. And from there, in the corner to the goalie's right side, looking across to the spot in between the benches, where I've been sitting since Opening Night 2011-12, I can see a lot on both ends on the ice. Things that I don't always notice while watching on TV.

Last season, especially in the playoffs, I saw a very tight defense from the Devils that took away the middle lane in front of the goalie, thereby making it harder for the opposing team to score. It helped lead to great success. This year, save for the first couple games, I really didn't see that. At least not in the pronounced way that it had been there last season. I did start to see a return to that with last night's game (compared to the last game I saw in person 2 weeks ago).

But the bigger one is watching the offence, especially the Power Play (which a few years ago, I nicknamed the "Power Play Kill" because it looked like they were killing time with the extra man on the ice instead of taking advantage of that man advantage). Last night, the power play was getting booed. Last year, I thought the power play was bad. This year, it's looked beyond awful. Now, I never liked Ilya Kovalchuk playing the point on the power play. I always thought he was too sloppy to be playing the point, letting too many pucks slip through out of the zone, and he would be more dangerous to the opposing defense playing up front. Even last year when the whole team looked better, I thought that was the case. But the biggest killer is when they're setting up on offense, they waste so much time passing the puck. And when you pass the puck, defenses can get their sticks in there breaking up passes and clearing the zone. It's not even a power play issue, but offense in general.

The only thing that's changed from last season, with new assistant coaches in charge of the offense, is that they're not good at passing the puck. How many times this season have I seen pucks miss the sticks of the intended recipient or pucks passed too hard go off the stick and have to be chased down. Both of those things affect the rhythm of the offense (and that's when they don't result in turnovers). The stats sheet shows a lot of shots, but whenever the team is trying to set up for a score, it's all passing, and you don't pass pucks into the net.

Zubrus being out for part of the season and Kovalchuk being out right now aren't the reasons why they're not scoring. There certainly has been a lack of depth that I think we all thought was a non-issue after losing Parise last summer. The Devils have the talent on offense, but it isn't clicking. And after a while, I think it got into their heads. It's definitely in their heads. I heard on the radio postgame last night that maybe a sports psychologist is in order (a thought from the radio team and not necessarily the coaching staff). You know the coach doesn't know what to do when the forward lines are being changed up every night. I know injuries are part of that, but still. I don't know which was the chicken and which was the egg as far as injuries and switching up the lines. I think they could have survived without Kovy if they didn't have all these other problems.

Get their heads cleared (okay, I don't know how easy that's going to be), and get some of the hockey skill issues resolved. Make forward lines, keep them in tact, and let them figure out how to play together. Don't pass so much on offense, shoot the puck on net, and have players in place for a rebound. Unfortunately, I don't know how much will be resolved this season. But we can always hope, now that the Devils are on the outside looking in.

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