|NHL: New Jersey Devils open season against Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Thursday, 04 October 2007 04:19|
Devilish Road Ahead
The New Jersey Devils have experienced more than their share of success over the last 12 seasons. Keeping a head coach in place for any length of time has proved far more elusive.
Brent Sutter debuts as the Devils' latest coach on Wednesday night when they begin a season-opening nine-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of last season's first-round playoff series.
Although the Devils reached the postseason for the ninth time in the last 10 years after posting a 49-24-9 record, Sutter became the team's seventh different coach during that span when he was hired on July 13.
Sutter has spent the last eight seasons as owner, president, general manager and coach of the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, one of Canada's elite junior leagues.
"There doesn't have to be a tremendous amount of love between the players and their head coach. There has to be a tremendous amount of respect," Sutter said. "I demand respect. I demand hard work. I'll do everything I can and I expect the same thing back from the players."
Sutter has the difficult assignment of starting his NHL coaching career with nine consecutive road games, made necessary because the Devils will move into the new Prudential Center on Oct. 27.
Veteran forward Jay Pandolfo believes the trip could benefit the team.
"It could be a good experience, especially if we get off to a good start," he said. "It's new faces and the guys are going to get a chance to hang out together and know each other. When you are home, you always don't have that opportunity with kids and stuff."
Only two other NHL teams started a season with nine consecutive road games, Quebec in 1980-81 and Carolina in 1999-2000. Both were also waiting for arena renovation or construction to be completed.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Tampa Bay -140 money line favorites (NHL Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 5.5 goals (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 80% of bets for this game have been placed on New Jersey +115 (View NHL Bet Percentages).
Back-to-back Atlantic Division titles proves Sutter has plenty of talent to work with, but he won't have center Scott Gomez and top defenseman Brian Rafalski, who left New Jersey in the offseason to sign with the New York Rangers and Detroit, respectively.
The Devils hope offseason acquisitions Dainius Zubrus, Vitaly Vishnevski and Karel Rachunek can help offset the losses of Gomez and Rafalski, who combined for 115 points last season.
While New Jersey has questions up front and on defense, goaltending is again a major strength as Martin Brodeur enters the 15th season of a brilliant career.
Brodeur appeared in 78 games in 2006-07, setting an NHL record with 48 wins and winning his third Vezina Trophy. Brodeur, though, allowed three goals or more in seven of 11 playoff games as the Devils beat Tampa Bay in six games before losing to Ottawa in five.
Brodeur is 23-13-2 with five ties, five shutouts and a 2.03 goals-against average against Tampa Bay in the regular season.
Goaltending, meanwhile, is the biggest reason why the Lightning (44-33-5) have failed to get past the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup in 2003-04.
Marc Denis began last year as the starter, but a slow start prompted coach John Tortorella to replace him with Johan Holmqvist. Although Holmqvist went 27-15-3 in his first full season, his .893 save percentage ranked 37th in the NHL.
Holmqvist will face added pressure early this season because top defenseman Dan Boyle, who had a career-high 63 points last year, will miss the first few weeks with a wrist injury.
Getting its goaltending and defense in order would make Tampa Bay very difficult to compete against because it boasts three outstanding forwards in Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards.
Lecavalier led the league with 52 goals and finished third with 108 points last season. St. Louis tied for fifth with 43 goals and set career bests with 59 assists and 102 points, while Richards added 25 goals and 70 points.
The Lightning went 3-1-0 against the Devils during the 2006-07 regular season, winning once in a shootout.
by: Gary Roberts - theSpread.com - Email Us
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