Now that we’ve met the 20-game mark of the 2007-2008 season, it’s time for the Devils’ first quarter grades. In our youths we attended a private day school that didn’t believe in grades; instead our teachers bestowed upon us, four times a year, written comments weighing our performances from both academic and effort perspectives. In is this spirit, and with a bit of report card inspiration from Arrested Development thrown in, we present to you our assessments of the Devils roster.
Hockey makes Kevin Weeks feel bam-chicka-bam-pow-pow.
Kevin Weeks can sit back and listen to all the porno music he wants based on the fact that he is the sole player who is not even the tiniest bit responsible for the disaster that is the first quarter of the season. By all accounts he works hard in practice, doesn’t complain about not getting playing time even when Marty’s looking shaky, and he says all the right things about wanting to be a part of this franchise. In our campaign to say positive things, he’s the only one who’s making our lives easy. And for that he gets a few more bars of bam-chicka and bam-pow-wah-wah.
Hockey makes Vitaly Vishnevski feel strong like ox.
We got some advice from Earl Sleek immediately after the Devils signed Vish-Dog about what to expect from him. Earl told us that he’d never score, he’d throw huge hits, and he’d take himself grievously out of position in order to get said hits. “Fantastic!” we thought, “He’s like a cheaper Colin White!” It turns out Earl was right, and so were we — Vish-Dog is the poor man’s Whitey. In all fairness, though, he’s been getting stronger of late; the big hits are coming pretty regularly, and the resultant lack of positioning is not terribly glaring. He also almost got a goal in a game, although Pando got a phantom tip from the toe of his blade on it to complete a hat trick, so we’re not going to rail to the heavens that Vish was robbed. Anyway, considering what else Vishnevski is working with on the blueline, we can hardly single him out. He’s been increasingly steady and pretty much exactly what we expected him to be.
Hockey makes Colin White feel blurry.
Whitey gets an “incomplete” this quarter, since he hasn’t played a game yet. He also gets the added burden of our totally unreasonable expectations for next quarter if he comes back, since we currently find ourselves curled into fetal positions during Devils penalty kills muttering, “It’ll all get better when Whitey comes back.”
Hockey makes Andy Greene feel like the bubble has burst.
Aw, Bubbles. Poor little Greener. He asserted himself during last year’s playoffs as the newer, better (read: “cheaper”), younger Rafalski, and then for some bizarre reason got shunted down the D pairings to make room for Johnny effin’ Oduya to skate top-pairing minutes. So we blame his slow start on Sutter’s refusal to recognize that he’s a more trustworthy defenseman than Oduya is, rather than on him, well, not being very good. So he has some “falling over when alone in the defensive zone” issues, and some “not really scoring at all” problems, and some “all the downside of Rafalski and none of the upside” concerns. But we still love him.
Hockey makes Paul Martin feel like stretching more often might be a good idea.
When we attended two Devils training camp sessions we noticed an interesting trend — Paulie Martin does not stretch. When all the other guys circled up and started stretching out their legs and groins and backs and abdominal regions, Paulie sat on the edge of the circle and watched. We’re not convinced he even tried to make an effort when the coaches looked in his direction. At the time we found this hilariously funny. Now that Paulie’s missing games due to leg/back soreness, we’re not laughing. After signing his big contract this summer, Martin became our de facto Number One D-Man. Losing him for any amount of time isn’t something the team can afford, even if, to paraphrase his own words from a recent Game Night interview, “the team isn’t doing all that well even with [him] in the line-up”. As soon as you’re healthy, Paulie, let’s try thinking about putting in just a few minutes of stretching a day, eh? We’ll personally donate one pancake per stretch if you need some extra motivation.
Hockey makes Sheldon Brookbank feel like shouting “Brook-BANK!”
Brook-BANK! That’s really all we have to say about Sheldon Brookbank.
Hockey makes Zach Parise feel like he’s living in a cuckoo clock.
We have never really met any of the Devils beyond a polite autograph-obtaining interaction, so it’s awfully presumptuous of us to claim we know anything about them as people. But we feel pretty confident when we say that Zach Parise seems like a guy who does not cope well with losing. Or with being one of the contributing factors to why his team is losing. We’ve lost track of how many times he’s popped up in the FSN postgame shows in a little soundbite where he sounds like he’s barely hanging onto the last shreds his temper and his sanity. Some might make excuses for him, though, by pointing out that he’s skating with new linemates on every shift, but we’ll mention that he’s been as streaky with his scoring as any of the other guys we thought we’d be counting on for goals in this uptempo, “Sutter Forecheck” era, and he’s also been the forward who most consistently runs around helplessly in his own zone. There’s never any question with Zach that he’s trying his hardest, but we’re not about to absolve him when looking at the team’s poor performance.
Hockey makes Rod Pelley feel like a newer, better, younger John Madden.
Just when you start to worry that maybe the steady stream of defensive forwards will finally dry up, along comes Rod Pelley.
Hockey makes John Madden feel like an older, slower, better Rod Pelley.
Just when you start to worry that John Madden has lost a step, along comes a Maddog capable of scoring goals.
Hockey makes Brian Gionta feel slumpy.
It’s hard to believe anyone could accomplish it, but Gio actually supplanted Patty during this first quarter as IPB’s Official Devil We Would Most Like To Fire.
Hockey makes Jamie Langenbrunner feel like a captain.
Langer should also get an incomplete along with White for not playing many games, but his presence has been felt strongly in the Captain Controversy that plagued the team at the start. It’s widely suspected that Sutter has had Langer ear-marked for the C from Day One, leading to any of 3 possible outcomes:
1. Langer gets the C after Thanksgiving and does the captain equivalent of his patented “fuck this shit” goals, turning the team around and leading them to victory.
2. Langer gets the C and can’t do anything more with the group of chronic underachievers than the popular but nutso Patty Elias could.
3. Langer doesn’t get the C, leading to more head-scratching about what Sutter is doing with the team.
Being the eternal optimists that we are, we’re putting our IPBucks on… Scenario #2. What can we say? We’ve seen what this vintage of Devils team has to offer.
Hockey makes Dainius Zubrus feel about 3/4 effective.
We love Zubrus, and nothing he does in the next six years can make us regret the contract Lou gave him this summer. He is everything we want from a Devil — defensively conscientious, intangible-esque, willing to be as interchangeable as his coach needs him to be, and hard-working. The only thing he’s lacking is, um… well, we hate to have to point this out, but… stats. Stats is what he’s missing. Or at least, good ones. Up until recently he had a +/- that made last year’s early-season Paulie Martin look like a young Larry Robinson, and Zubie’s been so snakebit offensively that he hasn’t really even been capable of getting his shots to the net, let alone into it. Of course, recently he’s seen a slight improvement in his goal totals, thanks to a few games against our new get-well goalie, Martin Biron. But still. Zubie’s becoming a hulking version of Sergei Brylin, but with less scoring touch. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Hockey makes Mike Rupp feel like it’s good to have Interchangeable Parts.
Thanks, Rupper! We feel it’s good to have Mike Rupp, too. Although we feel it’s good to have him on the bench, and Clarkson in the lineup.
Hockey makes Sergei Brylin feel ageless.
Is there ever going to be a day when we wake up and find that Sarge isn’t on our team anymore? That seems like too terrible a thought to comprehend. Sarge is like the tides, the seasons, the phases of the moon, but if none of those things ever changed. What we’re trying to say is that Sarge is eternal — steady, interchangeable, stolid. Sarge is Sarge. Sarge is.
Hockey makes Travis Zajac feel acorn.
No stranger to touchy-feeling comments instead of grades, Travis Zajac can be pleased with this assessment. He might not be on pace for the 25 goals/acorns we went on the record to predict, but he’s showing no sign of a sophomore slump which is more than we can say for contemporaries like Jordan Staal and Drew Stafford. We are most impressed with his new-found calm but deadly approach to forcing neutral zone turnovers. If he does nothing more this season but make us gasp, “Travis!” two or three times a game thanks to a particularly juicy “yoink” of the puck between the blue lines, we’ll be happy. (Yes, it’s true, all graders have favorites, and the grades reflect it. We didn’t make the system and we can’t change it.)
Hockey makes Jay Pandolfo feel SHAZAM!
A mere report card can’t hold the enormity of the love we have for Pando and what he’s done this quarter. Hell, he could have been stinking it up like he did in the playoffs last Spring and we’d still not be able to fully express our love for him in words because, well, it just… Pando. We believe we may have addressed our PandoLove and the extremes to which it extends in previous posts in this space. But it bears mention that, even though we think he hung the moon, we’re still agog at the statistical start he’s had to this season. And we refuse — REFUSE! — to even let the “C.Y.” words come into play here. Unlike every other player we’ve cynically snorted at during this kind of scoring stretch, Pando is not just having a classic Contract Year. No. He’s not. He’s just responding to being embarrassed in the playoffs, being stripped of his “A” (when he should be wearing the “C”), being demoted to the fourth line and taken off the PK in the preseason, and showing off his bad-ass leadership skillz. This has nothing to do with impending free agency. Shut up!
Hockey makes Arron Asham feel pleasantly surprised.
Ever since Lou promised Devils fans would be “pleasantly surprised” with the acquisition of Pascal Rheaume we’ve been using this phrase to sarcastically deride our team. We know, us? Really? Yes, really. So it is with much pleasure that we can say that we are genuinely surprised, and pleasantly so, with Asham’s play to this point. It might be a tad bit disingenuous for us to praise Asham for exceeding expectations, since we had no expectations of him to start with, but the fact of the matter is he’s added more spark to our, well, whatever line it is he’s playing on — are they set enough to even tell at this point? — than Rasmussen did last season, and that’s enough for us. Asham’s stepped up and responded occasionally when he’s had Parise on his wing, and his periodic bouts of fancy-pants-ing his way through the neutral zone are fun and engaging, two things we don’t see much of this year. The challenge for Asham for the next quarter and beyond will be finding new reserves of pleasant surprises to keep us happy.
Hockey makes David Clarkson feel pretty.
And we pity any fans with teams that aren’t as pretty as him. We feel we can’t properly assess his play for two reasons: 1) we’re blinded by his stunning good looks and 2) Sutter’s not exactly given him the quality minutes he’s shown glimpses of being able to handle. How’s he supposed to become the next younger, prettier Randy McKay if he’s sitting on the bench?
Hockey makes Patrik Elias feel huggy and weepy.
Oh man. Where to even begin with Patty? It is only by virtue of Gio’s staggering sucktitude that we haven’t spent every word of every post we’ve published this season calling for Patty’s head on a pike. Just when we think he can’t drive us any more crazy, he sinks to newer, unexplored depths. And then, as we are on the very brink of throwing our hands up and just accepting that he’s going to be our cross to bear for the next 100 years (or however long his contract is), he whines that he doesn’t want to be moved to center but then puts up his best two games since his Contract Year Of Awesomeness. If we gave letter grades we’d be struggling to find something more emphatic than an “F” for our erstwhile captain, but at the same time, we just can’t shake that we adore Patty. He’s so goofy, so earnest, such a charming headcase of a player that we can’t really hate the guy. So it’s only fair to admit here that while we’re decrying him as the greatest travesty to don the Devils engma this season, he’s our little travesty.
Hockey makes Mike Mottau feel wicked awesome.
Assessments must take into consideration intangibles, and in Mottau we find the important intangible of “Best Boston Accent in the League”. We can all but see the “Mayor Quimby” sash draped across him every time he opens his mouth. Since we have all but written off the defensive corps, this might be enough for us. If we’re still this ready to say Mottau’s a-okay thanks to his chow-dah pow-ah when we get Whitey and Martin back, we’ll not be happy.
Hockey makes Karel Rachunek feel like passing to an invisible teammate; no, really, he could have sworn there was a teammate there!
So he’s been a key character in two disastrous plays that have cost the team wins because he made stupid passes, but it’s not like we’re perfect. Wait, well, actually we kind of are. Hm. Well, Karel, just, you know, work on looking before passing, okay? We’ll see you again next quarter. In the meantime, carry on.
Hockey makes Johnny Oduya feel slippery.
The most telling moment in this young season that speaks to Oduya’s play so far was when Patrik Elias explained following a bad loss why he picked up Oduya’s broken stick, a move which lead directly to a goal being scored. “I thought Johnny had just dropped it, so I picked it up. I didn’t realize it was broken.” Considering that any player on any other team would, upon seeing a stick on the ice, think, “Gosh, that stick must be broken; otherwise, it wouldn’t be on the ice”, it’s notable that a Devil, upon seeing a stick on the ice, immediately thinks, “Gosh, Oduya dropped his stick again.” We’d very much like Oduya to work on this. Maybe he needs some sticky tape where his hands go, or maybe he needs to do some grip exercizes while watching TV, or maybe he just needs to be a little more alert. Whatever it is, we’re hoping to not have to bring this up again next quarter.
Hockey makes Marty Brodeur feel :(
Marty has been infallible for pretty much the entirety of his career, up until last March. Then the wheels started to fall off, and the grumbling started (from this corner) that he was overworked last year, and that the 48 regular-season wins cost the Devils who knows how many postseason wins. Well, imagine our surprise when a rested and reportedly unprecedentedly fit Marty shows up for the start of the season looking exactly like he did against Tampa and Ottawa in April and May. Has he been distracting himself with the chase for 500? Has he suffered for having a piecemeal defense in front of him? Has he lost a step? Is he just messing with our minds? Is he too fit and can’t play without his barrel physique? We don’t know. But after that crazy-assed save he made on Briere in win 500, we’re hoping next quarter is going to be when Marty shows exactly what makes the all-time greats all-time great: the “fuck this shit” thing. We want to see him say — after 20 games that forced him to admit for the first time in his career that he’s not having fun — that dammit, he’s ready to win. Every night. And if he has to do it on his own, so be it. He’s done it before, and maybe if he starts doing it again his forwards will consider giving him some goal support. BAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh, sorry. We just totally cracked ourselves up. That’s never going to happen. :(
Hockey makes Brent Sutter homesick.
We can only imagine Sutter sits back during every practice, game, team meeting, bus ride, or any time he finds himself in the same room with more than one of his current charges and thinks to himself, “Never in my worst dreams did I think I’d be coaching players like this.” And the players are thinking the same thing about him as a coach. It’s been a match made in heaven! Well, 20 games in, and we’re hoping the guys can toss this “learning curve” thing out the window, because frankly, the way things are going, hockey makes Pookie and Schnookie feel sick.