Devils head home to "The Rock" after stumbling through 9-game road trip Print
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Friday, 26 October 2007 16:50
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 Two trips to Florida, a stop in Ottawa, a jaunt to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and a couple of rides to play metropolitan rivals in New York marked the New Jersey Devils' season-opening, nine-game road swing.
After a sluggish 3-5-1 start, the Devils are finally ready for their new digs in downtown Newark, N.J.
Goodbye Meadowlands, hello Prudential Center - already affectionately known as ``The Rock.''
``We have been away for a long time, and it will be nice to get into our own building. But it's only nice if you're going to win and have success there,'' said new coach Brent Sutter, who already is taking the losses hard. ``Whether you're on the road or at home or whatever, it's brutal losing, so we've got to make sure when we get home to take advantage of that.''
The Devils also are trying to find success without key forward Scott Gomez and leading defenseman Brian Rafalski, who both left through free agency.
These aren't the Devils of old as they scored 21 goals in nine games with a more wide-open style, but were shut out three times including 2-0 at the New York Rangers on Thursday. Usually defensive-conscious New Jersey already has yielded 30 goals, too.
Whether things will get better at home remains to be seen. If nothing else, an extravagant opening night of ceremonies on Saturday should at least create quite a buzz among fans who grew tired of going to the Meadowlands.
``It's been a long waiting for it,'' goalie Martin Brodeur said. ``We're certainly not pleased about the results we've been having the first nine games of the season.''
Now they will try to build an identity in an arena they don't have to share with the NBA's Nets. But that will take some time.
Nothing will make the arena feel more like home than a lot of wins.
``I've seen it for maybe 20 minutes one day, so I don't really know,'' forward John Madden said. ``From what I've seen it looks beautiful and it's nice, but the only thing I can control is the product I put on the ice and that's what my intentions are.''
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MARTYBALL: When searching for signs why the Philadelphia Flyers are so much better this season than last, you don't have to look any further than 6-foot-3 guy standing in the crease.
Martin Biron has brought much-needed stability in goal for the Flyers, who seem to always be in need of a consistent starter.
Biron came aboard at last season's trade deadline and could prove to be the most important piece to a team that also added Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, Kimmo Timonen, and new captain Jason Smith.
Stuck behind Ryan Miller in Buffalo, questions remained whether Biron could handle the rigors of being a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. He had 31 wins in 72 games during the 2001-02 season but hasn't played more than 54 since the following campaign.
``I actually think that a lot of those talks over the last few years ... were something that gives you a little bit more juice at times to go out and work and to do the things that you know are going to make you successful,'' Biron said.
So far, so good.
Last week Biron earned top NHL honors by going 3-0 with a 0.66 goals-against average, a .982 save percentage and two shutouts as the Flyers won three consecutive home games.
Philadelphia entered the weekend 6-3, a far cry from its 1-6-1 start of last season that cost coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Bob Clarke their jobs last October.
The Flyers went from being a 101-point playoff team two seasons ago to an NHL-worst 56 points last season.
``Everyone focused on the biggest decrease in points last year in league history from one year to another,'' Biron said. ``To get us back in the playoff picture we're going to have to have about a 40-plus point increase this year, which would be one the biggest in the league.
``Our focus right now: To be at the top of our division. Then we'll see where that takes us in the conference and for the rest of the year.''
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CAMMALLERI CRUISING: A quick look at the early season scoring leaders could cause a double take.
Three of the top four goal-scorers through the first three weeks - Michael Cammalleri of Los Angeles, Vinny Prospal of Tampa Bay, and Calgary's Daymond Langkow - have a grand total of two 30-goal seasons to their credit.
Cammalleri, who scored a career-best 34 goals last season, carried the lead into the weekend with an impressive 10 in 11 games. Prospal, Langkow, and more familiar scorer Rick Nash are next with eight.
Ottawa's Dany Heatley, fresh off back-to-back 50-goal seasons, is in fifth place with seven goals in nine games.
Langkow had his most productive goal season during 2006-07, netting 33 in 81 games with the Flames. Prospal is coming off a season in which he scored only 14 goals while playing every game with the Lightning. His high came two seasons ago when he scored 25.
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FIGHTING THE FIGHT: As part of its ongoing campaign ``Hockey Fights Cancer,'' the NHL and the players' association have teamed up to sell autographed copies of ``Reflections on a Hockey Season: The 2007 NHL Year in Photographs.''
The books will be available through an online auction on NHL.com and NHLPA.com that began Wednesday night and continues until Nov. 7. NHL team captains and other prominent hockey figures such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have signed more than 50 copies of the book. All proceeds will benefit ``Hockey Fights Cancer.''
Lemieux, who battled Hodgkin's disease during his Hall of Fame career, also autographed a book with current Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
 

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