Intensity to Increase as Rivalry Matchup Looms

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko reviews the Devils’ last four games, the play of Travis Zajac and reveals his favorite moments of the Devils-Rangers rivalry. It was a disappointing stretch for the Devils after going 1-3-0 in their last four games since the last time we talked. What can you say about their efforts in those contests?

Ken Daneyko: Well, it’s unfortunate because they could have easily gone 3-1-0. I thought they played better in the loss to the Islanders than they did in the win at home. Keith Kinkaid had a tough game and he admitted that — it’s a tough spot — but I thought the Devils did a lot of good things in that one. They scored four goals, but you can’t pin that loss on anyone. Keith has been great all year.

Certainly, in the loss [on Tuesday] against the Senators they played very well. There’s no other way to look at it except the fact that [Craig Anderson] was good and they didn’t capitalize on some chances that they needed to. You knew it was going to be a tight, close game. Ottawa is a good defensive team that plays tight in the neutral zone, and you knew they were going to play even tighter with some pieces missing.

That first goal was so imperative. The game was very similar to the last time they met and the first team that was going to score was probably going to win the hockey game. That’s exactly what happened. But I thought the Devils played a strong, competitive game. Sometimes it’s tough to hear that or say that for our fans. But when you play like that, you’re normally going to win more than you lose. How frustrating is it for a team to play well, but not get the result they deserve?

Ken Daneyko: That’s going to happen in an 82-game schedule. You hope the results are there if you’re consistent in your play. Unfortunately, there are going to be nights, whether it’s a goaltender or a break or a bounce here or there, that go against you. You’re not always going to win games when you might deserve a better fate. That’s the reality.

[Read More From Ken Danekyo] A player that has played well in the last few games is Travis Zajac, who has recorded a point in four out of the last five contests. Can you talk about his play and is he somewhat underrated or underappreciated for what he does on the ice?

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Ken Daneyko: Travis is such a fundamentally sound player, night-in and night-out. For me, he’s one of the best defensive centermen in the game. He understands the game so well and is so smart. He’s one of the better faceoff guys in the league and he does all the little things you need to win a hockey game. With a team like the Devils that needs offense, you need him to contribute from that standpoint. He’s done that lately.

A guy like Travis Zajac is helping you win even if he doesn’t score in 10 straight games. Those players are invaluable to the team. He’s a player that may be underrated and probably underappreciated at times, but not by his teammates or his coaching staff. We’ve talked about trades in recent weeks and we’ve seen the Devils make some moves, smaller deals involving Sergey Kalinin and Vernon Fiddler. Will this give chances to some of the younger forwards on the team?

Ken Daneyko: I think it’s pretty evident with the two subtle moves general manager Ray Shero made. He wants to get younger. He wants to give the young guys an opportunity like a Joseph Blandisi or a Miles Wood or a Steven Santini. Those guys are a part of the future and part of the direction they’re going in. You can see that Blandisi has learned the game after spending a considerable amount of time in Albany with the AHL team. The offense will come — he picked up his first assist on the power play [Tuesday].

He’s an offensive guy and he’s shown that in his junior career, and his time in Albany. They wanted to see him compete at an NHL level night-in and night-out, as well as see him play well in his own zone. You can see a drastic improvement in that area.

That’s part of the retooling process. There’s still a lot of hockey left and you hope the Devils can make a run at the playoffs. But you have to keep an eye on the future and that’s exactly what Ray Shero is doing. He wants them to continue to get younger and faster with more skill. It takes a little bit of time, but now you’re starting to see those things come to life. Blandisi can be a part of that. Let’s look ahead to Saturday – Devils-Rangers at the Rock. What can you tell us about the rivalry and is there a little bit more of an edge to those games?

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Ken Daneyko: No matter where the teams are in the standings, there’s always an intensity in the rivalry. It’s always about bragging rights — whether it be for the players or for the fans. Regardless of where you are in the standings, you want to do well against your rival. That ups the emotion, the intensity, and you certainly want to find a way to get a victory. It’s always fun. Finally, what are your own favorite memories from this rivalry?

Ken Daneyko: Well, I wasn’t a player at the time, but 2012 was pretty exciting when Adam Henrique beat the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. Obviously, I’m emotionally invested in the team and 2012 was exhilarating.

Going back to the days when I was a part of it, you take something out of losses. In a weird way, the ’94 series was a fond memory even though we lost because of the type of series it was, the competitiveness of the two teams, and we were one-two in the standings during the regular season. The dramatic fashion of the series that went back and forth, the overtimes, the physical play, the goaltending, it was all spectacular. The star power with Messier, Richter and Leetch, along with Brodeur, Stevens and Niedermayer. I can go on and on.

Those things are what I remember and I am still fond of regardless of us losing. At the moment, it’s devastating when you lose, but for us, it was part of a process. We grew as a team and I grew as a player. I don’t think I ever would have gotten over that had I not won the Cup the next season, or three Cups in my career. But hockey never got much better than that seven-game series.