Dano Goes In-Depth on Refs & Retribution

In this edition of Dano on the Devils, Ken Daneyko gives his take on recent on-ice incidents, policing the game on the ice, Travis Zajac and Damon Severson.

MSGNetworks.com: There were interesting storylines that came out of the Devils’ loss to the Senators on Thursday. Obviously, the team’s three-game winning streak came to an end, but there were also the extras surrounding Taylor Hall and Alex Burrows.

We’ve seen incidents in recent weeks with the likes of Burrows, Radko Gudas and Brad Marchand taking liberties with Devils players. Is this something the team has to address in the future?

Ken Daneyko: It’s very difficult from a standpoint that there’s no more policing the game on the ice anymore. That’s the way it’s gone. So you can banter about it all you want, but because of the direction the NHL has been going in — and I don’t always like it — but it is what it is: it’s up to the league to protect players to the best of their ability, whether that’s with a suspension or whatever it may be.

The points in the standings right now are too important, so referees have to be a little more on top of it. With Burrows, it should have been a five-minute major and a game misconduct, not a double-minor. Unfortunately, every team complains about calls and that’s where the league certainly has to address that. You just have to hope that the refs make the right decisions and right calls out there. For me, it’s not just about the suspension. Sure, Burrows is going to get suspended, but it’s about making the right call on the ice when an incident happens.

The refs have to get it right and they have not a lot of times this season, not just with the Devils. They’ve got to collaborate, you’ve got four guys on the ice. Whether it was the flying elbow with Marchand, whether it was the knee with Burrows, the team needs to have the benefit of the correct call right then and there. Simply put: the officials have to be better and that’s the bottom line.

To me, it’s a double-edged sword. The Devils have addressed incidents like this all year long. I wouldn’t say the team is overly physical by any estimation, but they’ve answered the bell every time. They stick together and we’ve seen guys like Travis Zajac, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt confront opposing teams along the way. Fortunately, Taylor Hall is OK and he did what leaders do – he made a big hit, he drew a power play and scored the goal on the power play.

Sometimes it’s a fine line. I’m old school, but I’ve also evolved with the times. The points are too important and the Devils are in a fight for their lives for a playoff spot. The main focus has to be on getting victories, not getting retribution.

MSGNetworks.com: You mentioned about walking that ‘fine line.’ When you’re on the ice, how do you balance the idea of protecting your teammate, but also not taking a bad penalty at the same time? Is it instinct that makes you go out and defend your teammate against an opponent taking liberties?

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Ken Daneyko: I think it is instinct and that everything happens so quickly. Players don’t see what transpires all the time. Sometimes it can’t be addressed right away like you saw with Travis Zajac and Radko Gudas. He felt that liberties were taken on Kyle Palmieri and he went out on the next shift and made Gudas answer for it.

Did he get an instigator? Of course, and the Flyers actually scored on the ensuing power play. At the time, I’m thinking, boy I love what he did, respect it and it goes a long way with your teammates. At the same time, you’re also thinking is it going to cost the Devils a big game? Fortunately, the emotion prevailed and they were able to come back in the third. But that could have been a costly point.

I will say that I love the character of Travis Zajac and I think it’s no coincidence why his offensive performance has started to improve in recent games. That’s not Travis’ MO and he’s not a guy that’s going to do that a whole lot. But you’ve heard from Kyle Palmieri, sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and because of it, Travis is playing some of his best hockey.

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MSGNetworks.com: Talking about Zajac, he drew recent praise for his shutdown effort on Sidney Crosby’s line in the recent Devils-Penguins game. He’s not a guy that gets a lot of notice, but it always seems like he does the little things well. What do you make of his recent play?

Ken Daneyko: Look, Travis is a very smart, intelligent hockey player with a lot of character, there’s no question about that. He’s very responsible in his own zone, but there’s no doubt that Travis puts pressure on himself. He’s got the offensive ability and he has to contribute in that way as well. You have to be rewarded for your hard work at times like he was against the Flyers.

He was also really good [Thursday] night. He had chances and got the goal scored for the Devils. Travis down the stretch here is an important piece and you like to see him playing his best hockey of the season. He’s going to be an integral part defensively, on faceoffs and on the penalty kill, but he needs to chip in and he knows that.

I’ve talked to him about it and he wants to be that guy. No, you don’t expect him to score every night, but he can get a big goal when you need it. He’s done that lately and that’s why he’s been a long-time Devil and a real glue guy for many years.

MSGNetworks.com: Speaking of another player who has been playing very well, Damon Severson continues to turn in solid performances. He’s really come into his own recently and has provided some scoring from the defense. He was a healthy scratch earlier on this season, has that motivated him to perform?

Ken Daneyko: Nobody likes to sit out, especially if you’re a hockey player who’s got pride and skill like Damon. He’s neither the first nor the last good hockey player that has been a healthy scratch. It was an eye-opener, to say the least, and as players, we’ve all been through it — besides maybe Wayne Gretzky!

Having said all that, something like that gets your attention. And for Damon, this is a process. For any young defenseman, it can take 200-300 games to really settle in and be that player you think you can be. He’s starting to find that consistency on a nightly basis.

For me, it starts with the play in his own end. Sometimes players forget that. He’s got the offensive ability from the back end and he wants to produce. But if you take care of your own end, the other special qualities start to come out and that’s exactly what’s happened with Damon.

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