Ahead of Kaberle's return to the site of his near-death experience Jeremy of Devils Daily was kind enough to play along and submit himself to my questions:
1. Just before the playoffs started last year Lou Lamoriello decided to jump behind the bench and replace Claude Julien because he felt that the team had tuned out the coach despite another division title. Lou's Devils went on to get eliminated in the second round while struggling to score. What changes were made to try to address the offence?
After reading the first part of your question, I thought you might talk about Lou coaching again this year. Scott Gomez left (the third player named Scott to leave the organization since the Devils last Cup, Neidermayer and Stevens the others) for the New York Rangers. Are the Devils struggling without him? Probably. But is he worth $10 million per year? Absolutely not.
Defenseman Brian Rafalski also departed via free agency, leaving a huge gap in the offense. Arron Asham (Islanders), Danius Zubrus (Sabres), and two defensemen were signed in the offseason to replace Gomer and Rafalski. Until two days ago, Zubrus looked like an overpaid over-the-hill veteran. He must have taken criticism and a third-line demotion from rookie coach Brent Sutter very kindly. He contributed two assists and a plus three in the Devils 6-1 rout of Tampa.
2. Brent Sutter is a bit of a hockey god in Canada because of his unblemished record in the World Juniors and his job at the helm this summer during the Summit Series against the Russians. How do you feel that he is adapting to coaching in the NHL?
Sutter is a respected man in Canada and has much legacy to his family name (six brothers competed in the NHL). That said, there are two points I would like to make regarding his transition to the professional level.
Experience - a good NHL coach must have experience behind the bench, hich Sutter successfully maintained in the past.
Player/Coach Relationship - At the professional level, the athletes are adults making hundreds of thousands of dollars. When Sutter introduced himself to the team, the guys must respect him and listen to what he has to offer, not an easy task by all means. Although the team is currently a bit rusty, I
think that they are heeding his words and making strides in the right direction. He is slowly adapting to coaching in the NHL, which I think will be a smoother transition by midseason, when he is more accustomed to the media, style of play, etc.
3. Marty currently has a 3.02 GAA and .885 SV% and the Devils are propping up the Atlantic Division. Any fears that this might be the year that he, and by extension the Devils, finally fall off the pace and miss the playoffs?
After last game’s 6-1 trouncing over the Lightning, I am fairly confident that the Devils just needed to break out of their miserable 10-game stretch. Lamoriello and goaltender Martin Brodeur have led this team to the postseason in 10 consecutive seasons, something unimaginable in sports today. That said, I was very nervous after watching the Devils play their first 10 games. I think that the Eastern Conference is well-balanced this year, but that the Devils will find a way to squeeze
into the playoffs nevertheless. Once Jamie Langenbrunner returns from his groin injury, you will see a better balance across the three lines. He is our captain, leader, and commanded the second line last year with sidekicks Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.
To answer your question, I am not worried about Brodeur and the Devils missing the playoffs. I mentioned in an earlier post how Brodeur historically struggles at the beginning of seasons (at least the past three years), but picks up his game afterwards.
4. Do you have any special memories of a particular Leafs-Devils matchup (good ones, not the Domi elbow)?
Two immediately came to my mind. Last season, Brian Gionta scored three goals against the Leafs in the third period, which tied the game at 6-6. John Madden won it for the Devs in the shootout, taking a wild one 7-6. This game was not a fun experience, but a win is a win.
A much better memory takes me back to the 1999-2000 Devils/Leafs playoff series. What people might not remember is that the Maple Leafs won the season series 3-0-1.
In the game six clinching match, the Devils held the Leafs to six shots on goal for the entire game, a post-expansion NHL record of futility (Under head coach Larry Robinson and his neutral zone trap). It was possibly the greatest trap of any hockey game in history (at least since Jacque Lemaire utilized the trap in 1994). Sorry Leafs fans, but that must have been humiliating.
5. Predictions for the game?
Hmm... The Leafs have been playing well on the road as they recently upset both the Penguins and Rangers away from Toronto. The Devils will try to win consecutive games for the first time this season. They just defeated the speedy Lightning in the Prudential Center 4-1 on Halloween. I want to go with my gut and call for a 3-0 shutout, but the Leafs are a decent road team. My prediction is a Devils 4-2 win. The last goal will be an empty-netter.