Mave’s Saves: Devils at Bruins Preview

RECORDS: DEVILS, 3-0-1; BRUINS, 4-0-1

THEME: THE LEADERS HAVE TO LEAD — IN THE FIRST PERIOD, TOO:

PLUS: David Clarkson continues to impress with a hustling, productive game and looks like a leader along with Patrik Elias who delivered handsomely against Montreal. Martin Brodeur‘s splendid angle-cutting in the final minute of regulation, forced Rene Bourque to shoot wide. Else the Devs lose the point they gained via overtime.

MINUS: Mattias Tedenby needs work and will get it in Albany. As Lou Lamoriello explains, the kid is trying too hard; has to learn to relax. The club continues to falter in the first period. Peter DeBoer is urging his veteran leaders to clean up that messy part of the team’s syndrome so far.

EVEN: Dainius Zubrus is excelling with additional playing time. His game-tying goal in the third allowed the club to produce seven points out of a possible eight in four games so far. Despite the continued absence of Adam Henrique, the club still has not lost in regulation.

CHALLENGE: The Big, Bad Bruins are just that. They have a well-balanced offense and two top lines. Defusing the likes of Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and even Zdeno Chara will be no easy task. Devs have to decide whether or not to retain Stefan Matteau or return him to Juniors. Very, very tough call.

THREE KEYS TO STOPPING BOSTON:

1. Don’t get penalized if you can help it. Playing shorthanded nearly cost a defeat against Washington and did, in overtime, at Montreal.

2. Overall, New Jersey’s penalty-killing has been adequate and it had better be against a mighty Bruins power play.

3. Relentless forechecking by the Devils fourth line could tilt the edge to the visitors. Jump on a Boston club playing the second of back-to-back games after visiting Carolina on Monday night.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

1. TRAVIS ZAJAC VS. PATRICE BERGERON: A pair of shut-down centers will vie on key face-offs.

2. ILYA KOVALCHUK VS. ZDENO CHARA: Here’s a nifty bout; a big scorer against the biggest defenseman.

3. PETER DEBOER VS. CLAUDE JULIEN: Each uses his offensive depth to advantage. Keep your eye on Julien’s choice to check Kovalchuk.

MAVEN’S RAVIN’: The Devils must continue to build a points cushion until Adam Henrique returns. So far this season the Bruins present the toughest challenge.

VISIT THE DEVILS TEAM PAGE

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Mave’s Saves: Devils at Montreal Preview

RECORDS: Devils, 3-0-0; Canadiens: 2-1-0.

THEME: Stay “North” in the standings; send the Habs “South.”

PLUS: Martin Brodeur remans undefeated after three games and has been stellar in the trio of wins. More often than not, Mister Goalie wins in his hometown.

MINUS: Even in winning their games the Devils have started too slow for comfort and required big Brodeur saves to keep them in the game. Better starts are a must. In addition unnecessary penalties hurt them on Friday night at Newark. Coach Peter DeBoer twitted himself for the too-many-men-on-the-ice infractions. To his credit DeBoer accepted the blame with a quip: “I’m leading the team in penalties!” Mattias Tedenby was a non-factor.

EVEN: The “New” Crash Line — Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier-Ryan Carter — is getting significant ice time and making it worthwhile. Gionta’s goal proves that he can score as well. Despite giving up one goal on a five-on-three power play, New Jersey’s penalty-killing remains at the top of its game. Jacob Josefson — slowly but surely — is proving that he’s a solid two-way prospect.

CHALLENGE: With a new coach (Michel Therrien) and new g.m. (Marc Bergevin), the Habs have an upbeat attitude. Healthy Andrei Markov already has three power play goals in three games and is a constant threat. Carey Price has matured into a top NHL goaltender. Winning a fourth-straight will not be a snap for the Devs.

THREE KEYS TO STOPPING MONTREAL:

1. New Jersey’s top defensive pairing — Bryce Salvador-Anton Volchenkov — must contain the peripatetic Max Pacioretty.

2. Devils need a gung-ho first period and must maintain the pace throughout.

3. Minus holdout defenseman P.K. Subban, the Canadiens defense is vulnerable. Devils forecheckers must wear down the Habs backline.

THREE MATCH-UPS TO WATCH:

1. Martin Brodeur vs. Carey Price always is a main-eventer. Just because Marty’s in his home town does not guarantee a win; especially if the Price is right!

2. Before the Devils penalty-killers were scored upon by Washington’s five-on-three PP, New Jersey’s penalty-killers stopped eight straight Caps power plays, including a five-on-three. They’ll be up against one of the league’s better PP clubs. This is a dandy irresistible force vs. immovable object confrontation.

3. Stefan Matteau vs. Alex Galchenyuk: A pair of highly-rated rookies will try to outdo each other. Matteau could very well wind up on the Devils first line alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac; at least for a trial few shifts.

MAVEN’S RAVIN’: 

Every Devil I spoke with following the Friday night win at The Rock allowed that the club still has plenty of honing to do before it reaches the desirable sharpness. Even though the club is undefeated, it’s not nearly in mint condition. Winning in Habtown could erase doubts about whether the Garden Staters are for real.

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Mave’s Saves: Devils vs. Washington Preview

RECORDS: DEVILS:, 2-0; WASHINGTON, 0-3

THEME: Are Peter DeBoer‘s skaters for real?

PLUS: As a group the club has jelled must faster than anyone had imagined. The defense, led by new captain Bryce Salvador, has been so effective that prize sophomore Adam Larsson has not cracked the lineup. Martin Brodeur — still only 40 — has performed nobly. Travis Zajac has been outstanding among the forwards. Ilya Kovalchuk has meshed well and delivered a spectacular penalty shot goal against Ilya Bryzgalov en route to the win over Philadelphia. David Clarkson is quickly become a leader and scoring force.

EVEN: The “New” Crash Line — Stephen GiontaSteve BernierRyan Carter — has not dominated as it did last Spring. Better forechecking would help. Essential defenseman Henrik Tallinder appears to be in mint condition. For now, at least, Zach Parise’s absence has not hurt the club. Harmony exists up and down the line.

MINUS: The power play isn’t where it should be. So far it’s one-for-seven. Tinkering will have to be the order of the night. Remember, last year’s power play guru, Adam Oates, is now head coach of the Capitals.

CHALLENGE: Washington is winless and no doubt will be champing at the bit for a win. At this point overconfidence should not be an issue. What really matters is whether Brodeur can maintain the standard he set in his first two games. Stopping Alex Ovechkin’s mighty shot — or, better still, preventing him from shooting — is an automatic. The Caps will be playing desperate hockey; Devs have to match the intensity; or even top it.

FAN COMMENT: From Jim Charshafian of Saddle River, New Jersey: “The trademark that took this team to the Stanley Cup Final last Spring — hard work from every member of the team — has emerged. And that’s good news!”

THREE KEYS TO STOPPING WASHINGTON: 

1. Score the first goal: Since the Capitals haven’t won a game they’ll get further demoralized. By putting pressure on them the chances are that they’ll grip their sticks even tighter.

2. Keep Ovechkin from shooting. If that fails, block his shots. If that fails, it’s all up to Marty.

3. Get to their goalie, Braden Holtby — or Michal Neuvirth. So far Holtby has not been as sharp as he was in the playoffs last year.

FOUR MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 

1. Devils penalty-killers vs. the Capitals power play.

2. Holtby-Neuvirth vs. Brodeur

3. Bryce Salvador vs. Alex Ovechkin

4. Mike Green vs. Ilya Kovalchuk

MAVEN’S RAVIN’: A win for New Jersey — putting them at 3-0 — would be a significant step forward while the club bides time for the return of promising Adam Henrique. Pushing the Caps further down while the reel under a new coach and new system would be ideal. But it all comes down to how really real were the first two wins. Who knows; Brodeur may actually be pulling off The Miracle of Age 40-41!

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MAVEN’S MUSINGS: CLARKSON’S IMPACT ON THE DEVILS

*David Clarkson is looking more and more like New Jersey’s new leader. Bryan Salvador deservedly wears the “C” but Clarkson is scoring, fighting and disturbing in the best tradition of the Bruins’ Milan Lucic. And it doesn’t get much better than that; unless, of course, your name is Gordie Howe.

• That the Flyers are in trouble is obvious simply by watching Ilya Bryzgalov stumble and fumble between the pipes. Philly erred in naming Claude Giroux the captain. The “C” on Broad Street belongs to the more mature Scott Hartnell. Another loss or two for the Orange and Black and you can expect owner Ed Snider to take a long, hard look at his g.m. Paul Holmgren, if not the sneering man behind the bench, Peter Laviolette.

• In this Hurry-Up season, the Canucks may finally get rid of Roberto Luongo. Trouble is that back-up Cory Schneider has been no bargain for Vancouver. Then again, Edmonton’s goaltending is about as inept as it gets and there’s a possibility that the Oilers might be forced to part with one of its young talents for Luongo.

• “Home-Ice Advantage” has become THE biggest myth in the NHL.

• Do you believe Martin Brodeur? (Well, he does!)

• One of my buddies who coaches out west insists that the Kings won’t even make the playoffs. (And he made this prediction before the first puck was dropped.) Fancy that!

• There’s talk that Wayne Gretzky may soon be named president of the Maple Leafs. And why not? (As long as he doesn’t make the mistake of coaching again. Ugh!)

• Right now, I defy you to name one ultra-dominant team in the league and don’t tell me the Blackhawks; not with their goaltending.

• Some goalies are temperamental; others are just a delight to talk to; win or lose. Among my favorites: 1. Martin Brodeur; 2. Henrik Lundqvist; 3. Tim Thomas (when he’s not in retirement); 4. Scott Clemmensen. My latest discovery — witty, insightful, candid — is Evgeni Nabokov.

• Speaking of Gretzky, I always liked his explanation of how he became The Great One: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

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Devils Preview: The Music Goes Round and Round — Good-Bye Zach, Hello (Again!) Kovy!

You press the middle valve down; the music goes round and around, oh-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho and it comes out here.  (From “The Music Goes ‘Round And Around,” Words by Red Hodgson, Music by Edward Farley and Michael Riley.)

Zach Parise goes bye-bye and Ilya Kovalchuk pretends to go bye-bye. Maybe that explains why I hear strains of “The Music Goes ‘Round and Around.” And the Devils continue to succeed under maestro Lou Lamoriello’s baton.

Sometimes the melodrama on Mulberry Street is as exciting off the ice as it figures to be on the pond for Lamoriello, Inc.

No question, the Devils boss tried to keep Parise, his former captain, in Newark but there were somethings — simoleans and Ryan Suter — that propelled Zachary to The Wild Things.

No sweat. Peter DeBoer can do without Parise because he has Super-Russian, Ilya Kovalchuk, and a cast of winners.

Whoops! Kovy? Now you see him; now you don’t. It looks like he might prefer Russian rubles to Lou’s lettuce. At least some thought so until the start of this week.

Nah! Kovy was only kidding. Like the NHL, Ilya is baaack, and now DeBoer, the Devils second-year coach, is crafting a team that threatens to surprise the skeptics once more. And, yes, there are skeptics; in print, at least.

The Hockey News forecasts New Jersey for an eleventh place finish in the Eastern Conference. Now while that may distress some Devils fans THN has underestimated the Garden Staters before and I expect that it will happen again but it will take some doing.

DeBoer will be without sudden-death playoff hero Adam Henrique for at least two crucial rehabbing weeks — left thumb surgery — in a season that’s more sprint than marathon.

“When you lose the kind of players we’ve lost,” DeBoer asserts, “other guys have to fill those holes. It will have to be scoring by committee because you’re not going to replace a  Zach Parise.”

All of which thrusts veteran Patrik Elias deep into the pressure cooker as second-line center until Kid Adam returns. Patty, as usual, is nonplussed.

“I’m in better shape than I was a few years  back,” the crafty Czech insists. “I love it!”

Ah, shape. That term has more relevance for the Devils than most teams because most teams are not relying on a pair of goaltenders — Marty Brodeur and Johan (Moose) Hedberg — whose total age is 79. Mister Goalie Marty has crossed the 40-year plateau while Kid Hedberg — my math is good — is 39.

Relaxed and secure in the knowledge that he’s a future Hall of Famer, Brodeur immodestly says, “I always feel I play good. But if I’ve stepped up my game, it’s probably because of the enjoyment of it.” And he certainly displayed that joie de vivre last Spring.

Marty out-goaled Vezina Trophy-winner Henrik Lundqvist to reach the Final and has utilized his savvy and “book” on shooters to remain among the puck-stopping elite.

That said, Marty and Moose will require their No-Name defense led by Captain Bryce Salvador, Mark Fayne and Andy Greene to protect the seniors in the crease with tender, loving care along with shot-blocking and bodychecking, par excellence.

Okay, okay can this offense-stripped outfit squeeze into a playoff berth? An X-Ray of the lineup will give you a good idea:

GOALTENDING: Put it this (corny) way. It is what it is. What that means nobody will know until these adorable antiques face the flak fired by the Crosbys, Nashes, Malkins and Tavares, among the enemy artillery. Don’t sell Marty short; not after he out-played the likes of Panthers, Flyers and Rangers younger goalies in the post-season.

Marty, in particular, is as proud as they come and as combative as any future Hall of Famer hearing “experts” writing him off. “Moose and I bring stability to the back end,” says Brodeur. “We definitely have a nice set-up.”

Hope so!

DEFENSE: The not-so-secret weapon is sophomore Adam Larsson who rode some bumpy ice in his rookie term but has all the gifts that could thrust him into a carry-the-D role. His cohorts — Greene, Salvador, Fayne and Marek Zidlicky — did everything expected of them and then some in the trek through four rounds. Anton Volchenkov, when he’s not being a puck bullseye, and Peter Harrold are more than their no-name reputation. They might have to be more than that to keep Marty’s goals-against average respectable.

One of the more interesting returnees is Henrik Tallinder, who missed more than four months last season with blood clots in his leg. When healthy, the likeable Swede performed nobly and could very well return to top form in the 48-game schedule.

OFFENSE: Replacing Parise has to be done by a group effort; no more, no less. Which means the Kiddie Korps including Mattias Tedenby and Jacob  Josefson must hike their game up at notch or two. Likewise, David Clarkson, who enjoyed a career year in 2011-2012, will have to stay focused and as productive as DeBoer believes possible. Add to that the fact that the high command decided not to invite 21-goal Petr Sykora back for another season. Minus Parise’s 31 red lights and Sykora’s goals, that’s a minus of 52 that will have to be found somewhere.

If DeBoer is lucky, his New Crash Line — Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta — could be a more-than-minor-matter as the Rangers will attest. That fourth NJ unit was as much responsible for the Devils upset of New York than any first-line. The coach also will get a boost if Patrik Elias defies Father Time and continues producing at a first-rate pace.

In the end, though, success hinges on Kovalchuk doing what he’s supposed to, big-time, along with the ever reliable Travis Zajac and ever-underrated Dainius Zubrus.

Zajac proved last Spring that he’s ready for a major leadership role up front. “I had a strong playoffs,” says the Winnipeg native. “This is a big year for me; it’s a chance for me to take my game to another, higher, level. As for the adversity, we’ve dealt with that before. Whenever we’ve lost important pieces, we’ve found a way to overcome the challenge. Collectively, we’ll all have to be better.”

Another possibility would be a Lamoriello deal for a scorer. Lou has a surplus of defensemen and the with likes of Greene, Harrold, Tallinder and Fayne, any one of that group could be attractive to a defense-starved club. Not only that but the Devs feature prospects Alex Urbom and Eric Gelinas on their Albany (AHL) farm club. And as an extra added attraction, 2010 second round pick Jon Merrill could decide to bolt the University of Michigan after this season. “We’ve got some good prospects knocking on the door,” says DeBoer.

PHYSICALITY: With ovesized skaters such as Zubrus, Zajac, Kovalchuk and Larsson there’s plenty of poundage and size but not an abundance of boffo. However if that whirling dervish Cam Janssen makes the team — and he usually does — there’ll be enough police action to protect the smaller players.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Minus Parise, the power play could be a concern considering that Zach had seven PP goals. When Henrique returns, Adam will move into Zach’s place with the man advantage. With a year’s worth of experience the offensively gifted Larsson will do more quarterbacking and should learn as he goes along. Zach also will have to be replaced on the penalty-killing unit. Last season New Jersey set an NHL record with an 89.6 percent kill rate. They succeeded on 232 of 259 attempts. Even without Parise, they should prevail.

COACHING: DeBoer had every reason to be considered for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best bench boss last season. Cool, calm, collected — ask John Tortorella — the Devils mentor commands respect with little fuss or fanfare. Nor does it hurt his effectiveness that he is a certified lawyer and uses those skills with his team. If Pistol Pete does have a challenge it will be replacing Adam Oates who moved on to the Caps as head coach. Oates was superbly creative, working especially well on face-offs and with center ice men. Scott Stevens moves behind the bench but, so far, there’s nobody with the Oates’ offensive savvy on the bench.

MANAGING: Lou Lamoriello is as inimitable as a general manager can be in the NHL. He’s been with the club since 1987 and, as The Hockey News notes, “Lou looks like he can run the team for another decade. His mid-season deals helped get the Devils to the Final. Now the challenge is replacing Parise.”

THE MAVEN’S PREDICTION: New Jersey will make the playoffs but where they go from there will depend on how quickly — and effectively — Henrique rebounds from his injury and whether Larrupin’ Lou swings a deal and propels his team skyward; as he did last year. Then again, doesn’t Lamoriello always find a way?

And doesn’t the music always goes ’round and around?

VISIT THE DEVILS TEAM PAGE

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Islanders Preview: Hope Springs Eternal In the Dale of Union

 

@StanFischler

Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

Alexander Pope; “Essay On Man.”

Historically, we know that hockey teams do not ascend to a playoff berth on hope alone. On the other hand, hope helps.

It, in fact,  is a starting point for the Islanders who have substantial evidence to believe that they actually can reach the Exalted Eight when the chips are cashed in April.

For Jack Capuano‘s skaters to make the playoffs a number of pertinent pieces must fit into their puzzle and minus a full training camp, there will be precious little time to justify the jigsaw.

Two players among many can turn the Nassaumen in the right direction as they open their season on Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils in Uniondale.

One is Kyle Okposo whose potential has yet to be realized and the other, Brad Boyes, once scored 43 goals — fifth in the league, in 2007-2008 with St. Louis — which is proof enough that he once had the goods — and still might.

Boyes could re-discover that sizzling shot again. “My goal,” says the 30-year-old, “is to get back to those days. Offense always has been part of my game.”

Okposo, who once was considered captain material, has all the necessary qualities of stardom; size, savvy and a solid shot. At age 24 and in his fifth season as an Islander, Kyle can hark back to the homestretch when he tallied nine goals in the Isles last nine games to reach the 24-goal level. It marked the first time he surpassed the 20-goal  barrier in his career.

Having survived shoulder surgery before 2011-2012, Okposo suffered a slow start last season — similar to teammate-defenseman-captain Mark Streit — as he tried to re-adjust his game. It was a difficult period that was understood by teammates such as John Tavares who occasionally played alongside KO.

“Kyle had to find his rhythm and balance,” Tavares explains. “It took a while for him to reach the dominance in his game.”

Naturally, it will take more than merely plus-years out of Okposo and Boyes for the Isles to prevail, yet the goods are there starting with Tavares. The onetime first overall pick in the 2009 Draft has exponentially improved since his rookie season. What’s more, JT now is at a point where he can carry his team. During the lockout, Johnny played superbly in Switzerland and is expected to repeat some of the outstanding scoring streaks that made big headlines last year.

As for the human vacuum cleaner who must consistently and efficiently gather pucks, there’s The Forgotten Met Area Goalie; none other than Evgeni Nabokov; yes, Nabokov.

Let’s not forget how the indefatigable Russian kept his cohorts in business despite facing a ton of rubber and hardships on defense, Nabby put up impressive numbers just as he had in San Jose where he was the workhorse and often the reason why the Sharks posted Ws instead of Ls. It remains to be seen whether the reliable Russian still has the stamina and whether he can benefit from a 48-game season; which The Maven believes will be the case.

Isles first choice — fifth overall — in the 2011 draft, Nino Niederreiter has been playing darn well in the AHL. At Bridgeport, Nino has developed confidence while using his size and digging ability to warrant promotion when G.M. Garth Snow believes it will best suit the big club. “I believe in Nino,” says Isles savant Michael Leboff. “He’s now in game shape so there was no need to bring him to camp.”

And speaking of emerging talents, The Maven must mention currently-injured Josh Bailey who may very well prove that his shift from center to left wing late last season is just the prescription that JB needs to live up to his earlier notices.

But there’s lots more to analyze so let’s get with the up-and-down examination of a team a-building in earnest:

GOALTENDING: Isles-watcher Daniel Friedman makes a valid point: “If the Isles play Nabokov early and often he’ll give them a chance to compete.” The Maven agrees since I’ve been a Nabby-gabby ever since Evgeni was a Shark. He’s been a career game-stealer and could repeat that encouraging offence (against the enemy) this semester. Sports hernia surgery limited Rick DiPietro to eight games last season. Ricky has enjoyed a spirited training camp, short as it has been, and impressed onlookers with his determination and positive attitude. Either Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson have been honing their netminding skills in Bridgeport and could be ready.

In the end it’s got to be all about Nabokov staying healthy. “When the Isles ended their loss run against the Flyers last year,” Leboff remembers, “it was because Nabby put in the best goaltending performance I’d seen in years.”

DEFENSE: Major shoulder surgery two seasons ago meant that captain Mark Streit required all of 2011-2012 to find his groove. At that, he collected 27 points and displayed a constantly improved game in the second half. Travis Hamonic and Andy MacDonald proved a competent combo last season and will be even better this time around. The Isles added Radek Martinek who’s a solid commodity when he’s healthy. “Radek can skate like the wind,” Snow enthuses. Adds Streit: “He’s really good defensively and adds some offense as well. He’s underrated.”

Me? I love Martinek and the wish here is that he stays healthy. “Hopefully,” says Snow, “this is the year.”

Meanwhile, there could be a potential surprise in ex-Senators hulk, Matt Carkner, who made a name for himself in the Ottawa-Rangers playoff last year. This is one tough cookie who’s 31 and with 162 NHL games under his belt. Now’s the time for Matt to show that he can make the Isles top six on D. Ditto for Ty Wishart. If Lubomir Visnovsky ever ends his frustrating refusal to leave Europe and find his rightful place on the Island, the D situation would look a lot more encouraging.

OFFENSE: John Tavares makes any linemate look good; check out PA Parenteau as Exhibit A. Then again, goal-master Matt Moulson helps Johnny T. Which means that Brad Boyes would benefit immensely as right wing on the first line. If Boyes doesn’t cut it, Kyle Okposo goes right up and will thrive as he has before.

Secondary scorers are the ones capable of pushing this team upward. Michael Grabner is a better player than he showed last year while Frans Nielsen is one of the NHL’s top Shoot-Out artists and penalty-killers. Josh Bailey is another who may finally ripen into an effective offensive force while his buddy, Matt Martin, should add some goals to his distinction as one of the finest body-checking forwards in captivity.

At some point, Ryan Strome and Niederreiter could be called up to varsity. A line comprised of Bailey, Martin and Niederreiter — all young and eager — is one that could be a really, positive, bust-out unit. Other pleasant surprises may be delivered by David Ullstrom and Casey Cizikas.

PHYSICALITY: Matt Martin, Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton are all clever tough guys who won’t hurt the club as much as they’ll help. This is a significantly tougher team that last year’s squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS: When it comes to the penalty-killing, the speedy and alert Grabner-Nielsen tandem rank high in the league. Hamonic, MacDonald, Streit and Martinek will be effective on PK defense. Cizikas also is good in short-handed situations. Casey actually looms as an Isles sleeper.

The power play will be anchored by Tavares and Moulson with Boyes and Nielsen each getting good shots. Streit will be a major factor as point man with a shot and a knack.

COACHING: Jack Capuano remains somewhat of an enigma and remains in Snow’s good graces. Cappy will be under pressure to catapult the team into contention early on or, at the very least, not let the pack pull away.

Jack needed at least a year to get a good feel of the league; and his players. He’s ready to step up. I hope he does.

MANAGING: Garth Snow has made some adroit moves such as the acquisitions of hot-shooter Moulson as well as Grabner, Nabokov and Streit. The g.m. has a nifty young nucleus being developed in Bridgeport.

THE MAVEN’S PREDICTION: I’m going ‘way, ‘way out on a limb and predict a playoff berth for the Isles. It’s based on Nabokov starring in goal, Tavares hitting a new, starry level and the special teams coming through!

Oh, yeah, and also The Law Of Averages!

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DEVILS SEASON PREVIEW: THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND — GOOD-BYE ZACH, HELLO (AGAIN!) KOVY!

You press the middle valve down; the music goes round and around, oh-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho and it comes out here.  (From “The Music Goes ‘Round And Around,” Words by Red Hodgson, Music by Edward Farley and Michael Riley.)

Zach Parise goes bye-bye and Ilya Kovalchuk pretends to go bye-bye. Maybe that explains why I hear strains of “The Music Goes ‘Round and Around.” And the Devils continue to succeed under maestro Lou Lamoriello’s baton.

Sometimes the melodrama on Mulberry Street is as exciting off the ice as it figures to be on the pond for Lamoriello, Inc.

No question, the Devils’ boss tried to keep Parise, his former captain, in Newark, but there were somethings — simoleans and Ryan Suter — that propelled Zachary to The Wild Things.

No sweat. Peter DeBoer can do without Parise because he has Super-Russian, Ilya Kovalchuk, and a cast of winners.

Whoops! Kovy? Now you see him; now you don’t. It looks like he might prefer Russian rubles to Lou’s lettuce. At least some thought so until the start of this week.

Nah! Kovy was only kidding. Like the NHL, Ilya is baaack, and now DeBoer, the Devils’ second-year coach, is crafting a team that threatens to surprise the skeptics once more. And, yes, there are skeptics; in print, at least.

The Hockey News forecasts New Jersey for an 11thplace finish in the Eastern Conference. Now while that may distress some Devils fans THN has underestimated the Garden Staters, the Hockey Bible has been wrong in the past about the Devs. I expect that to be the case, but it will take some doing.

DeBoer will be without sudden-death playoff hero Adam Henrique for at least two crucial rehabbing weeks — left thumb surgery — in a season that’s more sprint than marathon.

“When you lose the kind of players we’ve lost,” DeBoer asserts, “other guys have to fill those holes. It will have to be scoring by committee because you’re not going to replace a la Zach Parise.”

All of which thrusts veteran Patrik Elias deep into the pressure cooker as second-line center until Kid Adam returns. Patty, as usual, is nonplussed.

“I’m in better shape than I was a few years back,” the crafty Czech insists. “I love it!”

Ah, shape. That term has more relevance for the Devils than most teams because most teams are not relying on a pair of goaltenders — Marty Brodeur and Johan (Moose) Hedberg — whose total age is 79. Mister Goalie Marty has crossed the 40-year plateau while Kid Hedberg — my math is good — is 39.

Relaxed and secure in the knowledge that he’s a future Hall of Famer, Brodeur immodestly says, “I always feel I play good. But if I’ve stepped up my game, it’s probably because of the enjoyment of it.” And he certainly displayed that joie de vivre last Spring.

Marty out-goaled Vezina Trophy-winner Henrik Lundqvist to reach the Final and has utilized his savvy and “book” on shooters to remain among the puck-stopping elite.

That said, Marty and Moose will require their No-Name defense led by Bryce Salvador, Mark Fayne and Andy Greene to protect the seniors in the crease with tender, loving care along with shot-blocking and bodychecking, par excellence.

Okay, okay can this offense-stripped outfit squeeze into a playoff berth? An X-Ray of the lineup will give you a good idea:

GOALTENDING: Put it this (corny) way. It is what it is. What that means nobody will know until these adorable antiques face the flak fired by the Crosbys, Nashes, Malkins and Tavares, among the enemy artillery. Don’t sell Marty short; not after he out-played the likes of Panthers, Flyers and Rangers younger goalies in the postseason.

Marty, in particular, is as proud as they come and as combative as any future Hall of Famer hearing “experts” writing him off. “Moose and I bring stability to the back end,” says Brodeur. “We definitely have a nice set-up.”

Hope so!

DEFENSE: The not-so-secret weapon is sophomore Adam Larsson who rode some bumpy ice in his rookie term, but has all the gifts that could thrust him into a carry-the-D role. His cohorts — Greene, Salvador, Fayne and Marek Zidlicky — did everything expected of them and then some in the trek through four rounds. Anton Volchenkov, when he’s not being a puck bullseye and Peter Harrold are more than their no-name reputation. They might have to be more than that to keep Marty’s goals-against average respectable.

One of the more interesting returnees is Henrik Tallinder, who missed more than four months last season with blood clots in his leg. When healthy, the likeable Swede performed nobly and could very well return to top form in the 48-game schedule.

OFFENSE: Replacing Parise has to be done by a group effort; no more, no less. Which means the Kiddie Korps — including Mattias Tedenby and Jacob  Josefson — must hike their game up at notch or two. Likewise, David Clarkson, who enjoyed a career year in 2011-2012, will have to stay focused and as productive as DeBoer believes possible. Add to that the fact that the high command decided not to invite 21-goal Petr Sykora back for another season. Minus Parise’s 31 red lights and Sykora’s goals, that’s a minus of 52 that will have to be found somewhere.

If DeBoer is lucky, his New Crash Line — Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta — could be a more-than-minor-matter as the Rangers will attest. That fourth NJ unit was as much responsible for the Devils upset of New York than any first-line. The coach also will get a boost if Patrik Elias defies Father Time and continues producing at a first-rate pace.

In the end, though, success hinges on Kovalchuk doing what he’s supposed to, big-time, along with the every reliable Travis Zajac and ever-underrated Dainius Zubrus.

Zajac proved last Spring that he’s ready for a major leadership role up front. “I had a strong playoffs,” says the Winnipeg native. “This is a big year for me; it’s a chance for me to take my game to another, higher, level. As for the adversity, we’ve dealt with that before. Whenever we’ve lost important pieces, we’ve found a way to overcome the challenge. Collectively, we’ll all have to be better.”

Another possibility would be a Lamoriello deal for a scorer. Lou has a surplus of defensemen and with likes of Greene, Harrold, Tallinder and Fayne, any one of that group could be attractive to a defense-starved club. Not only that, but the Devs have feature prospects, Alex Urbom and Eric Gelinas on their Albany (AHL) farm club. And as an extra added attraction, 2010 second-round pick Jon Merrill could decide to bolt the University of Michigan after this season. “We’ve got some good prospects knocking on the door,” says DeBoer.

PHYSICALITY: With ovesized skaters such as Zubrus, Zajac, Kovalchuk and Larsson there’s plenty of poundage and size, but not an abundance of boffo. However, if that whirling dervish Cam Janssen makes the team — and he usually does — there’ll be enough police action to protect the smaller players.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Minus Parise, the power play could be a concern considering that Zach has seven PP goals. When Henrique returns, Adam will move into Zach’s place with the man advantage. With a year’s worth of experience the offensively gifted Larsson will do more quarterbacking and should learn as he goes along. Zach also will have to be replaced on the penalty-killing unit. Last season, New Jersey set an NHL record with an 89.6 percent kill rate. They succeeded on 232 of 259 attempts. Even without Parise, they should prevail.

COACHING: DeBoer had every reason to be considered for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best bench boss last season. Cool, calm, collected — ask John Tortorella — the Devils’ mentor commands respect with little fuss or fanfare. Nor does it hurt his effectiveness that he is a certified lawyer and uses those skills with his team. If Pistol Pete does have a challenge it will be replacing Adam Oates who moved on to the Caps as head coach. Oates was superbly creative, working especially well on face-offs and with center ice men. Scott Stevens moves behind the bench but, so far, there’s nobody with the Oates’ offensive savvy on the bench.

MANAGING. Lou Lamoriello is as inimitable as a general manager can be in the NHL. He’s been with the club since 1987 and, as The Hockey News notes, “Lou looks like he can run the team for another decade. His mid-season deals helped get the Devils to the Final. Now the challenge is replacing Parise.”

THE MAVEN’S PREDICTION: New Jersey will make the playoffs but where they go from there will depend on how quickly — and effectively — Henrique rebounds from his injury and whether Larrupin’ Lou swings a deal and propels his team skyward; as he did last year. Then again, doesn’t Lamoriello always find a way?

And doesn’t the music always goes ’round and around?

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Rangers Season Preview: “What Might Have Been” Could Be This Year

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
John Greenleaf Whittier, from his poem “Maud Muller.”

To this day Rangers fans hark back to that Brad Richards’ playoff overtime breakaway against Martin Brodeur that just missed torpedoing the Devils last Spring.

Ah, what might have been had the Blueshirts sharpshooter beaten New Jersey’s netminder. But the goal never happened and a Cup march was aborted by a rookie named Adam Henrique.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Game Six of the third round is ancient history. Now the robust Rangers are determined to turn “what might have been” into a Stanley Cup reality this Spring.

Everything about the 48-game schedule favors the Rangers who are bursting with enthusiasm — and talent.

Chase up and down the lineup — from Vezina Trophy-winner Henrik Lundqvist to playoff rookie sensation Chris Kreider — and you’ll find something to shout about. But none more than the biggest fish Glen Sather caught in the off-season — Rick Nash.

“Rick has proven he can score,” says the general manager. “He’s a five-time All-Star, and only 28.”

Nash’s blockbuster shot is just one part of the New Yorkers arsenal. Sather added grit and gumption with the acquisitions of Arron Asham, Jeff Halpern and Taylor Pyatt who’ll complement that already solid offense spearheaded by Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan, just to name a few.

“We have the team to do it,” opines Lundqvist. “Now we have to execute.”

Let’s check out the club that many savants — but not all — figure can go all the way to the Canyon of Champions.

GOALTENDING
The Lundqvist-Marty Biron tandem ranks with the best — if not the NHL’s best between the pipes. Coming off the Vezina win, Henny has reached the prime of his career yet remains super-motivated to accomplish what has eluded him so far; a march to the Final round and some champagne thereafter. If there’s a caveat, it has to be Lundqvist’s inability to go the route. When all was was said and done last Spring, it was Brodeur who out-goaled The King in the clutch. Henny knows that he still has somethingmore to prove.

At age 30, Lundqvist came away with super-duper numbers. He won 39 games and sported a .930 save percentage and 1.97 goals against average; not to mention eight whitewash jobs. A shortened schedule is right up his alley and that means Biron — who won a dozen games last year — is likely to get only cameo appearances.

DEFENSE
If Tortorella’s collection of backliners doesn’t top the league “Superior” list, I’d like to know where there’s a better, more diverse quartet than Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto. The most impressive aspect of their top rating is that the best is yet to come from a unit that’s still on the young side. If McDonagh improves just a notch he’ll be a Norris Trophy candidate but, then again, that’s what some voters were saying about Girardi last season. Then again, had Staal not been sidelined, many observers believed that he was destined for a career year. That should happen this semester.

The reserves aren’t bad eitther. Anton Stralman, Stu Bickel and Matt Gilroy could well be peering in their rear view mirror at hulking prospect Dylan McIlrath who’s still rough around the edges with the accent on rough. Rapidly-improving Del Zotto likely will quarterback the power play. His 10 goals and 31 assists in 2011-2012 testifies to his growth as a key figure on the blue line. Steve Eminger rounds out a crew that actually has reached the surplus level; and you know what that means; trade possibilities.

In terms of strategy, expect the tandems to maintain the team tradition of blocking shots at all costs. In 2011-2012, the Rangers blocked an average of 16-plus shots per game and topped that in the playoffs.

OFFENSE
Now that Gaborik’s shoulder surgery has been successful, the fire power up front is impressive. Nash (“I’m embracing the Rangers”) is bubbling with enthusiasm and will be skating alongside the best linemates of his career. It would be natural for him to skate with number one center Richards who totaled 66 points last year playing in all 82 games. Then Brad added 15 in 20 post-season contests.

Apart from the marquee forwards, Torts will have an impressive collection of Young Turks including Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin, but the spotlight, more than anything, will be on Kreider. The 2009 first-rounder jumped from Boston College’s NCAA championship game on to playoff heroics. His five goals in 18 post-season matches ranks as the most ever for a skater who had not appeared in a regular season game. Plus, his 6-3, 230 pound frame has enabled him to brush past barricades that stop smaller stickhandlers.

In his first season as captain, Callahan demonstrated that he fully deserved the “C” and all signs suggest that he’ll be even better and that spirit will pervade the entire roster; especially on the third and fourth lines. That features fighting Mike Rupp, Taylor Pyatt, Brian Boyle, Hagelin, Asham and Halpern.

PHYSICALITY
Unquestionably, the new model Blueshirts, man for man, will be as tough as any foe. Fighters include Rupp, Asham and Bickel. If Micheal Haley makes the varsity, that gives Torts even more punch. This is a big club made bigger by Nash, Kreider and Pyatt. Guaranteed, the Rangers will not be pushed around.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The exits of Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko means that Tortorella will have a new penalty-kill combo; likely led by Hagelin and Pyatt should be effective. Naturally, the key to effective PKs is the goaltender and that’s already in place. We know that Lundqvist can’t double on the power play — 23rd out of 30 last year — but the addition of humongous Nash and Kreider should push the PP into the Dandy Dozen bunch; maybe even Top Six.

COACHING
Like the leopard, Torts is not going to change his spots nor his style for that matter. He’ll be the same pressure-cooker coach he was winning a Cup in Tampa and sparking his club deep into the playoffs last Spring. Best of all, he has more of his kind of players then ever before and that’s only to the good. Newsday’s Steve Zipay opines, “Most admire Tortorella’s driven-to-extreme persona.”

MANAGING
The sport’s bible, The Hockey News, offers the best, concise commentary: “Sather’s plan to build through the draft has paid off faster than expected.”

THE MAVEN’S PREDICTION
Barring an unexpected — and now unforeseen — breakdown, the Blueshirts should steamroll through to the Conference title and reach the Cup Final. I see no reason why a Stanley Cup will be denied this time around.

“What might have been” will be this year!

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The Hockey War Is Over — Amen. Now Let’s Drop the Puck!

For many NHL-less months, I was constantly reminded of a song from the 1963 English musical about World War I, “Oh, What A Lovely War.”

The tune in question opened as follows: “When this lousy war is over, oh, how happy I will be.” And that’s precisely how I felt about the seemingly endless CBA Battle.

Amen! The hockey war is over and I — along with millions of fans, media types and other onlookers — am tickled pink. And that, I might add, is the understatement of the half-century.

All of us — from our dedicated fans of MSG Network and those who jam The Garden every hockey night — to everyone in the hockey world, especially in Islanders and Devils Country, it’s time to have stickhandling fun once more.

ALL of us puck-followers can now chant: THANKS! THANKS! THANKS!

We’re thankful that the 2013 season is saved.

We’re thankful that the CBA agreement will keep us from any more migraines and now we can turn our attention to whether our favorite teams are en route — hopefully — to important things, such as winning a Stanley Cup.

We’re thankful that recriminations can now be turned to full-scale rooting in the right directions.

You get the point; it’s over and we’re glad and now we have to figure what will develop in the blossoming immediate future. The following are some thoughts:

FANS REACTIONS
Many rooters were suitably unhappy about three months of a hockey drought. I sympathize and empathize with them. Been there; done that. My prediction is that once the puck officially is dropped, fans will return as they have in the past; secure in the knowledge that they’re assured that they’ll have a work-stoppage-free hockey life.

RETURNING PLAYERS
The stickhandlers all will be in shape. Either they’ve been playing overseas or working out here in North America. Players such as Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, et. al. have operated on the theory that a settlement eventually would be achieved. Most should be in mint condition.

QUALITY OF GAMES
I vividly recall the shortened 1994-1995 season which finally began in January 1995 after a lengthy work stoppage. As it happened, the tighter campaign inspired intensely played contests. “It was like every game was a playoff game,” recalled Marty Brodeur, who paced the Devils to their first Stanley Cup — I was there for all four of the Final games — in June 1995.

MAKING NICE
There were the usual charges and countercharges that characterize any labor dispute. They surfaced throughout all previous work stoppages and this was no exception … but with an asterix. Never before was the hi-tech social media employed to express opinions. At times, the emotional outbursts crossed the level of what my Uncle Joe would call “Revolutionary Decorum.” I believe that any damage caused will turn out to be as illusory as smoke rings. We all know that hockey is an emotional sport, and once the intensity of a game subsides, reason prevails. And that will be the case as we prepare for the new campaign.

What about our local clubs? The following are a few capsule comments. I’ll have a more detailed review in the next few days.

DEVILS: Reaching the Stanley Cup Final, as they did, proves that one never can underestimate the magic of Lou Lamoriello. But the Devils boss faces challenges. To wit:

1. Zach Parise was lost to Minnesota via free agency. Lou himself has said, “You don’t replace a Zach Parise — you just don’t do that.” Scoring by committee will be the answer.

2. Rookie sensation Adam Henrique won’t be available for a few weeks because of injury, which means youngsters such as Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson must step up with quality hockey.

3. Martin Brodeur is 40 and Johan Hedberg is only a year younger. Only the next four months will determine whether their experience and intense training will enable them to maintain excellence.

4. The offensive nucleus — Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus — is there and could surprise even without Henrique.

5. Through the playoffs, the defense was a pleasant surprise and that was thanks to Bryce Salvador, Mark Fayne, Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder.

6. Hidden talent: Adam Larsson should have a break-out year along with the newest Crash Line — Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter.

7. Bottom Line: The high command, including Lamoriello and solid coach Peter DeBoer, insure that “Devils Hockey” will be as efficiently pursued as last season.

RANGERS: The sky’s the limit for the Blueshirts this year and you know what that means: The Stanley Cup is a genuine possibility. And here’s why:

1. Goaltending with Henrik Lundqvist and Marty Biron is top-notch.

2. Top players are in their prime. Namely, Rick Nash, captain Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, just to name a few.

3. Veterans still have the goods and that includes Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards topping the list.

4. Solid role players abound — Mike Rupp, Arron Asham, et. al.

5. Youth will be served by Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto, among others.

6. The coaching staff, led by John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan, is as good as you can get.

7. Bottom Line: Glen Sather‘s plan to build through the Draft is working to perfection.

ISLANDERS: A five-year playoff drought finally could be over this Spring based on the maturation of talent amassed by Garth Snow. Let’s look ’em over:

1. Matt Moulson and John Tavares have developed as potent a one-two scoring punch as any duet in the NHL; plus neither has reached his prime.

2. Mark Streit spent last season recovering from a serious injury. Not until the end, did he shape up into top form. This should be his year as defenseman and captain.

3. The Whiz Kids — Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic and Matt Martin — figure to be more Whiz than Kids this time around.

4. Prospects: Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Kevin Poulin are among several youthful talents with a shot at the varsity roster. Especially, keep your eye on Strome.

5. Jack Capuano has the backing of Snow, but Cappy must get his club out of the starting gate as speedily as possible.

6. Snow added toughness in Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton. The Isles will not be pushed around this year.

7. Bottom Line: The fate of the Isles could well be decided by secondary scorers such as Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and newcomer Brad Boyes.

MAVEN’S COMMENT: Drop the puck. LET’S PLAY HOCKEY!

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The Hockey War Is Over — Amen. Now Let’s Drop the Puck!

 

@StanFischler

For many NHL-less months, I was constantly reminded of a song from the 1963 English musical about World War I, “Oh, What A Lovely War.”

The tune in question opened as follows: “When this lousy war is over, oh, how happy I will be.” And that’s precisely how I felt about the seemingly endless CBA Battle.

Amen! The hockey war is over and I — along with millions of fans, media types and other onlookers — am tickled pink. And that, I might add, is the understatement of the half-century.

All of us — from our dedicated fans of MSG Network and those who jam The Garden every hockey night — to everyone in the hockey world, especially in Islanders and Devils Country, it’s time to have stickhandling fun once more.

ALL of us puck-followers can now chant: THANKS! THANKS! THANKS!

We’re thankful that the 2013 season is saved.

We’re thankful that the CBA agreement will keep us from any more migraines and now we can turn our attention to whether our favorite teams are en route — hopefully — to important things, such as winning a Stanley Cup.

We’re thankful that recriminations can now be turned to full-scale rooting in the right directions.

You get the point; it’s over and we’re glad and now we have to figure what will develop in the blossoming immediate future. The following are some thoughts:

FANS REACTIONS
Many rooters were suitably unhappy about three months of a hockey drought. I sympathize and empathize with them. Been there; done that. My prediction is that once the puck officially is dropped, fans will return as they have in the past; secure in the knowledge that they’re assured that they’ll have a work-stoppage-free hockey life.

RETURNING PLAYERS
The stickhandlers all will be in shape. Either they’ve been playing overseas or working out here in North America. Players such as Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, et. al. have operated on the theory that a settlement eventually would be achieved. Most should be in mint condition.

QUALITY OF GAMES
I vividly recall the shortened 1994-1995 season which finally began in January 1995 after a lengthy work stoppage. As it happened, the tighter campaign inspired intensely played contests. “It was like every game was a playoff game,” recalled Marty Brodeur, who paced the Devils to their first Stanley Cup — I was there for all four of the Final games — in June 1995.

MAKING NICE
There were the usual charges and countercharges that characterize any labor dispute. They surfaced throughout all previous work stoppages and this was no exception … but with an asterix. Never before was the hi-tech social media employed to express opinions. At times, the emotional outbursts crossed the level of what my Uncle Joe would call “Revolutionary Decorum.” I believe that any damage caused will turn out to be as illusory as smoke rings. We all know that hockey is an emotional sport, and once the intensity of a game subsides, reason prevails. And that will be the case as we prepare for the new campaign.

What about our local clubs? The following are a few capsule comments. I’ll have a more detailed review in the next few days.

ISLANDERS: A five-year playoff drought finally could be over this Spring based on the maturation of talent amassed by Garth Snow. Let’s look ’em over:

1. Matt Moulson and John Tavares have developed as potent a one-two scoring punch as any duet in the NHL; plus neither has reached his prime.

2. Mark Streit spent last season recovering from a serious injury. Not until the end, did he shape up into top form. This should be his year as defenseman and captain.

3. The Whiz Kids — Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic and Matt Martin — figure to be more Whiz than Kids this time around.

4. Prospects: Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Kevin Poulin are among several youthful talents with a shot at the varsity roster. Especially, keep your eye on Strome.

5. Jack Capuano has the backing of Snow, but Cappy must get his club out of the starting gate as speedily as possible.

6. Snow added toughness in Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton. The Isles will not be pushed around this year.

7. Bottom Line: The fate of the Isles could well be decided by secondary scorers such as Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and newcomer Brad Boyes.

RANGERS: The sky’s the limit for the Blueshirts this year and you know what that means: The Stanley Cup is a genuine possibility. And here’s why:

1. Goaltending with Henrik Lundqvist and Marty Biron is top-notch.

2. Top players are in their prime. Namely, Rick Nash, captain Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, just to name a few.

3. Veterans still have the goods and that includes Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards topping the list.

4. Solid role players abound — Mike Rupp, Arron Asham, et. al.

5. Youth will be served by Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto, among others.

6. The coaching staff, led by John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan, is as good as you can get.

7. Bottom Line: Glen Sather‘s plan to build through the Draft is working to perfection.

DEVILS: Reaching the Stanley Cup Final, as they did, proves that one never can underestimate the magic of Lou Lamoriello. But the Devils boss faces challenges. To wit:

1. Zach Parise was lost to Minnesota via free agency. Lou himself has said, “You don’t replace a Zach Parise — you just don’t do that.” Scoring by committee will be the answer.

2. Rookie sensation Adam Henrique won’t be available for a few weeks because of injury, which means youngsters such as Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson must step up with quality hockey.

3. Martin Brodeur is 40 and Johan Hedberg is only a year younger. Only the next four months will determine whether their experience and intense training will enable them to maintain excellence.

4. The offensive nucleus — Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus — is there and could surprise even without Henrique.

5. Through the playoffs, the defense was a pleasant surprise and that was thanks to Bryce Salvador, Mark Fayne, Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder.

6. Hidden talent: Adam Larsson should have a break-out year along with the newest Crash Line — Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter.

7. Bottom Line: The high command, including Lamoriello and solid coach Peter DeBoer, insure that “Devils Hockey” will be as efficiently pursued as last season.

MAVEN’S COMMENT: Drop the puck. LET’S PLAY HOCKEY!

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