Check back each week as we get the great Ken Daneyko’s take on the latest news surrounding the New Jersey Devils.
Ken Daneyko: It was certainly the right way to start after the All-Star break. They’ve been real good on the road lately — five wins in a row on the road. Sometimes on the road, you think less. You don’t overthink think it, you don’t overthink that extra pass. You don’t try to do much.
The start was the key [Tuesday] against the Detroit Red Wings. All four lines were rolling, they all got engaged in the game. Yes, they were led by their top guys, but the third line has really come on for the Devils. I think they really found something with this [Pavel] Zacha–Jacob [Josefson] paring. They seem to have a lot of chemistry and now you get [Stefan] Noesen, he’s got two goals in two games.
That third line is contributing offensively and it makes you so much more of a dangerous team. It relieves the pressure off the top two lines and they played a looser and freer style of play. That’s what I saw in Detroit.
MSGNetworks.com: One of those players on the top two lines is Kyle Palmieri, who scored twice against the Red Wings. Can you talk about his season so far?
Ken Daneyko: Kyle has really come on as of late. He was really fighting it in the first 30 games of the season. He works so hard, he’s a leader and he’s a guy that’s engaged. After a 30-goal year, maybe he put too much pressure on himself. But he really seems relaxed right now, he’s shooting when he should shoot, he’s making the right plays and he still competes as hard as anybody.
It’s not just [Thursday], he’s been really coming on the last four or five games.
MSGNetworks.com: Another player who’s starting to turn it on of late is Adam Henrique, who scored the game-winning goal shorthanded vs. Detroit. What about his play?
Ken Daneyko: Adam is such a good two-way player. He’s so valuable because he’s so good at killing penalties, he’s great at helping the defensemen down low, picking up the right guy and blocking shots. He’s a defenseman’s dream as a two-way player, but he’s also been known as a clutch scorer for years here in New Jersey.
If they’re going to creep back into this, the big guys are going to have to produce like this. They need the guys like Palmieri and Henrique and I thought they were terrific [Tuesday].
MSGNetworks.com: The biggest guy of them all is Cory Schneider, who made a huge save at the end of the game. How has he responded in the last few outings?
Ken Daneyko: I think Cory has gotten a little bit of his swagger back. It all started before the All-Star break when he came in for Keith Kinkaid and stopped all 18 shots the Capitals fired at him. A lot of those were of the quality variety. Sometimes that’s what it takes. He’s an elite goaltender. All good players are scrutinized more than anyone else, they go through their tough times. You’ve seen a lot of goaltenders around the league go through their tough times this year.
It happens, but he’s a leader and has a good attitude. He admitted that he let in a bad goal and I like that. He takes ownership. What he did is make key saves at the right time, and he made a couple of huge saves when the Devils were up 2-0 and again when they were up 3-1. He knows he’s the key guy. He said that “everybody has to step up, but nobody more than me.” He’s done that.
MSGNetworks.com: Heading into Friday’s game against Calgary, the Devils are five points out of the final playoff spot in the East. Do players get caught up and keep track of the scores and standings late in the season?
Ken Daneyko: I think you look at scores, but I think fans and us in the media do that more than players. I know I didn’t like to take a peek too often. It’s five points, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but you have a lot of teams in front of you. Everybody is packed together. For the Devils to make the playoffs, you can’t just say it with your mouth. You have to believe it with your heart. You have to think we can go on a run, “we can win nine of 10 and we’ll be right there.” That’s what it’s going to take.
MSGNetworks.com: One last thing. With the Flames and New Jersey native Johnny Gaudreau coming in, this seems like an appropriate question. Can you reflect on the growth of hockey and youth hockey in the state of New Jersey? We’ve seen so many good players come out of the Garden State recently, from Gaudreau to the van Riemsdyk brothers to Kyle Palmieri.
Ken Daneyko: It’s fantastic. I was drafted the original year the Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982 and there weren’t too many indoor rinks in the entire state. There’s well over 60 now 35 years later. It just shows the growth of youth hockey and the interest in the game. “Jersey” Jim Dowd, who was really the first successful Jersey kid to carve out a real nice career for himself and win a Stanley Cup in 1995, he was instrumental in that, too.
Now, it’s not unimaginable to see Jersey kids getting drafted or even getting drafted high like Kyle Palmieri or James van Riemsdyk. And a guy like Johnny Gaudreau, a player that a lot of people said he wasn’t going to make it because of his size. Well, he’s absolutely flourished for the Calgary Flames!
Kids see that and they have belief. Play the game for fun, play hard, maybe go to college. The vision of being a pro, like when I was a kid when I was 7 years old, believing that what I was going to do is attainable now in New Jersey.