In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko touches upon the Devils’ recent results, the growth of a dangerous new third line and a huge stretch of games against Conference rivals.
MSGNetworks.com: It was a tale of two games for the Devils coming out of their bye week. What did you think of their performances against San Jose and Colorado?
Ken Daneyko: Sometimes I don’t like to look at trends in certain teams, but teams coming out of the bye break are 3-8-1 this season. So, the bye week hasn’t been kind to teams. There’s got to be rust involved. Having said that, you meet up with a team in the Sharks that went to the Stanley Cup Final who was angry and hadn’t won in four games.
The odds were stacked against the Devils [in Sunday’s loss] against the Sharks. The Devils could have stolen that game because Cory Schneider was outstanding and they were up a goal after one period. But it was a superstar effort from Brent Burns that turned the game.
He may be the best player in the league like his teammate Joe Thornton said. The guy is one special player. In my opinion, they got beat by Brent Burns.
As for the game against the Avalanche, don’t be mistaken by their record, Colorado has a lot of skill. They’re a team that’s young, but they’re having a tough year. Having said all that, this is a team two years removed from making the playoffs. You don’t take anything for granted. They’ve beaten a lot of good teams in some of their wins this season. I liked the Devils’ effort and their compete level in Tuesday’s win over the Avs and the way they were able to shake off the loss against San Jose. They were able to bounce back and were ready to go against Colorado.
MSGNetworks.com: One of the guys who had a great game Tuesday was Taylor Hall. He’s known for his goal scoring, but he was acting more as a playmaker against the Avs. What did you make of his game and does his ability to pass the puck so well surprise you?
Ken Daneyko: Before he came to the Devils, I was no different than anyone else, I thought of Taylor Hall as a great skater and more of a sniper. I didn’t realize how great his passing ability is. He’s just a smart, real good hockey player. He’s got great vision and hockey IQ. He can make split-second decisions and puts those passes right on the tape, like he did for Kyle Palmieri which led to the eventual game-winning goal.
Taylor Hall continues to show me that he’s going to be such a key piece for this team, but he’s got help and balance now. He and Palmieri have a nice little chemistry going along with Travis Zajac, who I thought had a real strong game as well.
You need a No. 1 line and that line is leading the charge right now.
Ken Daneyko: They really have started to work well together. Zacha is developing and hopefully he’ll be a top-two line guy. But, boy it makes it delightful when you got the Zajac line at No. 1, [Adam] Henrique centering the second line and now you got a formidable third line. It’s something the Devils have been missing for the last year. So far through four or five games, you’re seeing them create, scoring goals and capitalizing on some opportunities.
What I’ve seen is the speed of Josefson coming to light and being effective on this line. He’s picking up some assists and, hopefully, he’ll put some pucks in the net. Noesen is a bigger body and he’s been strong along the wall. He’s not going to be dynamic offensively, but he’s a good solid strong guy. That’s why they’ve gelled. And Zacha does a little bit of everything. He’s got the size to do board work, but he also has the hands, skill and shot to be kind of the leader of that line.
Those guys have found some chemistry and found some things that have been going well for them.
MSGNetworks.com: We’ve talked a lot recently about the young forwards. What about one of the young defensemen like Damon Severson, can you talk about his play and how he’s progressed?
Ken Daneyko: I look at Damon a little bit like I look at Pavel. Damon has a little more experience, but he’s still young — just 22-years-old. He’s been up and down a little bit, but I really like his game recently.
I’ve always said from a skill perspective that Damon Severson is potentially the Devils’ best defenseman. He has that potential to be a stud young defenseman. I’ve said that going into the season and I still say that moving forward. He didn’t get an assist [Tuesday], but the first goal of the game was made possible with Damon’s quick hands right at the blue line.
Those are the things that Damon Severson can do because he’s smart, he’s got great hands and he can skate. I still have real high hopes for him.
MSGNetworks.com: Finally, the Devils are sitting five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Is this next stretch of games make or break for their season and will it determine what Ray Shero plans to do in the future?
Ken Daneyko: I think I’ve been saying it’s a make or break week to stay in the playoff hunt for the last couple of weeks. They’ve risen to the occasion after a tough loss and bounced back in the past few weeks.
This week, it doesn’t get any easier – the Senators and a back-to-back with the Islanders. We know that if they’re not going to win them all, they need to take at least three of the next four. The Islanders games aren’t going to be easy and the Senators have had a great year.
This is going to be a fun week. Now, you look at it like a challenge. If they play the way they’re capable of — and they have a little more depth up front offensively — they can handle this task.
I don’t think Ray Shero will be deviating from his plan and making any shocking, blockbuster deal. I think it’s more a tweak here and there. The players want to make that decision tough and I’m just liking their effort lately. They’re getting there and I think they are going to make it tough for Ray Shero. That’s a good thing. The team’s improving and getting better, regardless of how all this shakes out.