First Month Analysis
Now that the first month of the “new” NHL is under our belt, it’s a perfect time for some evaluation. Here’s what I’m thinking about the new rules:
Goalie Trap Zone: Most insanely stupid concept in all of professional sports. I’ve vented my frustration towards this rule before, but it continues to blow my mind every time I watch a game. Only allowing goalies to handle the puck in a trapezoid is like telling NFL quarterbacks they can only scramble as long as they stay between the hash-marks. Since about 50% of what makes Martin Brodeur the best goalie in the game is his stick-handling ability, the NHL should refund the Devils half of his pay and only count the other half towards the team’s salary cap.
Obstruction: Scoring is inflated beyond Gary Bettman’s wildest dreams. If the NHL wanted to increase scoring, then mission accomplished. But if they were trying to make the game more exciting, they failed. No one wants to see players skate around untouched… a part of what makes hockey so appealing is the physical aspect of the game. Hockey fans like seeing their players fight though checks and work hard to score. That’s what makes hockey such a blue-collar game. Unfortunately, right now we have basketball on ice. Not only do we have thrilling dump-and-chase hockey on our hands (hint sarcasm), but fighting has been reduced almost to nonexistence. Again, if the league wants to increase excitement, fights are the LAST thing they should be trying to deter. Ask anyone who has ever attended a game what happens when two players drop the gloves.
Elimination of the Two Line Pass: Now here’s something that has actually helped the game. Being able to pass from goal line to blue line has made the game much more wide open and has created creativity from offensive players. If only us Devils fans had the luxury of watching Brodeur spring one of those passes from his corner…
Offsides Tag-Up: Finally, it’s back and it’s helping the flow of the game. It won’t increase goals, but it creates less faceoffs and more excitement.
Icing: Penalizing the team guilty of icing by not allowing them to change lines is brilliant. Now if the league will get rid of the icing touch up, the rule will be perfect.
Rules aren’t the only thing different in the NHL this year. The Devils are drastically different from the team we’ve grown used to over the past decade. So far, the season has been a tale of two teams… one that plays hard and one that barely shows up. With that in mind, here are some first-month awards:
Team MVP: Brian Gionta. He leads the team in goals and is the only guy who seems like he’s going all-out from start to finish of every game. Our record would be comparable to Pittsburgh’s if it wasn’t for Gio.
Team Underachiever: tie between Dan McGillis and Vladimir Malakhov. McGillis has finally started to throw his weight around the way he was expected to from the start, but no one takes more stupid penalties at inopportune times than McGillis. Malakhov, on the other hand, might be completely worthless. He turns the puck over in his own end, has absolutely no physical presence at all, and has been so disappointing lately that he’s spent some time on the team’s third defensive pairing (paired with none other than Mr. McGillis).
Most Pleasant Surprise: Sean Brown. When Colin White went down with a groin injury for several weeks, Brown not only filled his skates, but worked his way to the team’s top defensive pairing. He absolutely kills skaters entering the zone, plays responsibly down low, and every now and then blasts his way into the offensive zone with a scoring chance. His point shot is like a cannon and that has earned him some power play time. When Colin White came back for the last game against the Rangers, Brown stayed in the lineup and McGillis was a healthy scratch.
Waiting to Break Out: Scott Gomez. He skates like the wind through the neutral zone, makes opposing defensemen miss him along the boards, and makes nice plays out of nothing. But without Patrik Elias, Gomez has seemed like a puppy with no one to play with. As soon as someone steps up as a so-to scorer (and at times Gionta has), expect Gomez’s numbers to blow up.
Changing His Game: Alexander Mogilny. This isn’t the Almo we came to know in 2000-01. He’s no longer the fast-as-the-wind sniper with a laser beam shot, waiting to tear goalies a new one. More than anything, he’s playing almost Mario-like hockey. He uses his presence to shift defenses and sends accurate passes to his linemates. He does still have a great shot (which he doesn’t use enough) but his playmaking ability has definitely improved. With his increasing age and bad hip, maybe he had to make a change. So far it’s working because he leads the team in points.
Best Worst Player: Viktor Kozlov. Most nights this guy is brilliant. No one else in a Devils sweater can fight off defenders along the boards better than Kozzy. His passes are perfect and his shot is heavy. Unfortunately, this Kozlov doesn’t show up every night. On those nights, he’s lethargic and seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. If he can get his head and heart into every game, he’ll be unstoppable.
Next Team Captain: Your guess is as good as mine. Rafalski seems like he’s doing the job now. He plays hard every night and definitely leads by example. He’s even the one who does the most jawing with the refs. But there’s something in Madden’s game that makes me think it could be him. He’s not in the box nearly as much as he was at the start of the season, which is a definite plus given his incomparable skill as a penalty killer. Both Madden and Rafalski were undrafted, but New Jersey’s scouting staff found them and gave them jobs, so they both have loyalty to this team beyond comprehension. But, then again, maybe the team is just waiting for Elias to come back. Time will tell.