Youngsters and Vets Aid Devils’ Climb in the Standings

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko addresses the team’s great run since the All-Star break, Patrik Elias’ future and what the team may consider doing at the trade deadline The Devils have been trending upward since coming back from the All-Star break — 3-0-1 in their last four games. What has been the key to their success and what did you think was most impressive about the win vs. Buffalo Monday?

Ken Daneyko: [The Devils] were able to carry over what they talked about and put a couple of games together with the same energy and compete level. It was real good to see that against a Sabres team that was coming off a 4-0 victory against Ottawa. They bent, but they didn’t break. They were getting opportunities and controlling the play. The mental fortitude of the team is getting a little stronger.

They certainly look more balanced and they have to continue to play as a team in all facets of the game. The defense core is doing it collectively. Cory Schneider is playing much better and he’s given up two goals in his last two games. Everybody is bailing each other out.

They deserve a good break here, but they have to pick up where they left off when they have a nice stretch at home and try to keep climbing. It’s still going to be very difficult, there are a lot of teams bunched up, but I think it’s very rewarding for the fans and very rewarding to see the progress of the team. One of the guys who has picked it up lately has been Pavel Zacha, who scored the game-winning goal against Buffalo. He has seven points in his last nine games. How has he developed from the start of the season?

Ken Daneyko: I think with any young player — especially a high pick like Zacha — you want to see progress. It came slowly in the first half of the season.

You’re just seeing a more confident player in recent games. You’re seeing a player that finally is understanding the compete level you need in the National Hockey League and the consistency night in and night out. You see him being more confident with the puck, making plays and using his assets — his size, his strength and his speed. You just see it when you run into him after morning skates, he’s smiling, he’s happier and he’s calmer. That shows me that this kid’s confidence is growing for sure. From one of the youngest players on the team to one of the longest-tenured players: Andy Greene. What have you seen from him since he returned to the lineup from injury?

Ken Daneyko: Any time you miss your captain, a veteran presence in a guy like Andy Greene, it’s going to be missed. I thought the Devils, for the most part, did a pretty good job of filling that hole while Andy was out. But it catches up to you eventually. With Andy back and logging big minutes, it takes pressure off guys like Kyle Quincey, Ben Lovejoy and Damon Severson. Those guys stay fresher and play better.

Andy is a guy that’s been underrated for a lot of years, but is appreciated here in New Jersey for his steady play. You really need a guy like Andy in the backend. If they’re going to make a push, they’re going to need him and it’s real good to see him back. After the win in Columbus Saturday, Taylor Hall made some interesting comments about putting pressure on the front office, by winning, in order to force them to make a deadline move. Is that something players talk about in the locker room?

Ken Daneyko: As a team and as players, that’s the position you want to put the general manager in. This is a team that is retooling, so there are no quick fixes here. But now they’re playing the way they’re capable of and all of sudden they look like they’re a little more formidable offensively. They look like a team and they’re playing for each other.

You always think about it, but you let management do their job and have trust in them. I think everybody has that trust for general manager Ray Shero in the organization.

But you don’t just do something for the sake of doing it. It’s got to be a right piece. You don’t want to add something and then subtract a piece that’s supposed to be a part of your future. That’s the dilemma general managers have, but that’s their job.

The Devils still have a bunch of games before March 1, so it’ll be interesting and fun at the deadline. For the players, their job is to continue to make it difficult for the front office … but difficult in a good way! Finally, a word about Patrik Elias, who made some comments this week about his future. What has he meant to the Devils’ franchise and what can you say about your former teammate?

Ken Daneyko: Whatever Paddy decides, you know that he’s an intelligent guy. I believe him when he say that he wants to leave the door open because it’s a big a decision. When you hang them up, you want to have no regrets.

On the other hand, he says if he’s not going to help the team and produce — and that’s something him and Ray Shero have to discuss — maybe it does sound like he’s comfortable with leaning towards retirement.

He’s been a lifelong Devil and so instrumental in two Stanley Cup wins. He’s beloved by the fans and rightfully so because he’s been loyal and wears that Jersey crest with a lot of pride. That’s a little more near and dear to my heart having played my entire career here.

I really appreciate what Patrik Elias has done in his career and whatever Patrik decides and however long it takes, he’s earned that. I can’t give Paddy enough compliments or accolades for what he’s meant to this New Jersey Devils franchise.