- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Entering the weekend as the only NHL team left without a win is a tough pill to swallow for an organization with such a proud history.
But that is the current state of the New Jersey Devils, off to an 0-4-3 start and looking for answers.
"First of all, we’ve played well enough to win," veteran GM Lou Lamoriello told ESPN.com Friday. "But it’s also obvious we’ve played poor enough where we could take a loss. It’s right in the middle. We don’t like where we’re at; we’ve played seven games and we have three points. So what we have to do right now is to continue to push forward and not dwell on anything.
"There are 75 games left. There’s no pushing any [panic] buttons. The coaching staff is doing everything they possibly can. They’re working at it."
The Devils are averaging 1.86 goals a game, which pretty much is the place to start in explaining the winless start.
In good times and bad, Lamoriello has always talked about a team’s performance being most influenced by the top players.
"You’ve always heard me say that when you have success, you have your best players consistently playing the best, and that’s what we need to have on a consistent basis," Lamoriello said. "Not one on one night and the other on another night; it has to be consistent."
To be fair, the Devils have a number of new faces after the stunning midsummer loss of superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk, and it can take time for the new players to jell. Some of those players arrived late in the summer as well.
"There’s no question we brought in four, five new people. Sometimes it takes time even though you don’t like to admit it," the Devils GM said. "But I don’t look for excuses. We’ve had time to get them in, and they have to respond. They’re all quality people and quality players. If it takes a little more time, so be it. But we can’t dwell on it right now. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we just have to do what we need to do to get back on track."
Santorelli a bargain
As far as signings go, this one went pretty much unnoticed outside of Vancouver on July 6, the second day of free agency.
Mike Santorelli signed a one-year deal with the Canucks, a two-way contract that will pay him $550,000 in the NHL and $250,000 in the AHL.
He was not promised an NHL job, indicative of the two-way deal. He was just promised a fair shot.
"He came to camp in great shape and he’s worked his butt off," Canucks GM Mike Gillis told ESPN.com Friday. "He came determined to earn a spot and he did."
He’s been coach John Tortorella’s "Everything Man" so far, playing with the Sedin twins at times and in checking roles at others as both a wing and a center. Santorelli has six points (4-2) in eight games and a plus-3 rating.
"He’s played on all three lines. The coaches like his versatility, they like the fact he can play in lots of different situations with lots of different players," Gillis said.
Huge credit as well goes to Santorelli and his agent J.P. Barry of CAA Sports. In a summer where so many players were left standing without a job when the music stopped because of the lowered salary cap, they accepted Vancouver’s offer despite its minimal financial appeal. A job is a job.
"We commended J.P. on making a good call because he recognized we had a good opportunity for Mike," Gillis said. "And he got in there early. In this climate, there’s only so many dollars you have to go around. The guys that got in early weren’t left with the stigma of waiting around [for a job]. He did that, and so far he’s done really well with the opportunity."
Senators break up top line
The idea first came during a 4-1 loss in Anaheim earlier in the week with the Senators sputtering en route to a fourth straight defeat.
"They looked dangerous," MacLean told ESPN.com this week. "And they were really dangerous against Phoenix [the next game], even though they didn’t score a goal."
So much so that the Coyotes took top shutdown center Martin Hanzal off Spezza’s line and put him on the Turris trio. That opened it up for Spezza to score a hat trick as the Senators ended their winless streak with a 4-3 OT win in Phoenix on Tuesday night.
So the new top two lines stayed intact for Thursday’s 5-2 win over New Jersey.
"If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," MacLean said.
When Ryan was acquired last summer, the connection with Spezza seemed perfect, a natural goal-scorer with one of the game’s top play-makers.
Perhaps because Spezza was limited in preseason by an injury, the two just never developed enough chemistry.
"All along we said we wanted to be patient and allow them to develop chemistry, but if it doesn’t appear to be there, you don’t want to force it to happen either," MacLean said. "Maybe we’ll go back to it further down the road. Right now, I think we’ll leave Bobby with Turris and MacArthur and Spezza with [Cory] Conacher and [Milan] Michalek, because we seem to be a dangerous team."
And I wouldn’t see this as a demotion for Ryan, not at all. To me, the Sens now have 1a and 1b lines, both units equally important in the scheme of things. In fact, if you look at the ice time in the past two games with the new-look lines, both lines played very comparable minutes.
What it’s given Ottawa is a more balanced attack. MacLean will reunite Ryan and Spezza at some point for sure, but for now this is working for them.
Any regrets for Oilers?
You must wonder how badly the Oilers now wish they found a way to get a deal done with the Canucks last June when Cory Schneider was put up for grabs.
Given their goalie woes in this disastrous early season (although I thought Devan Dubnyk looked much better Thursday night in a 3-2 loss), Schneider would look pretty darn good in an Oilers sweater right now.
Edmonton certainly thought hard about it, showing up at the Canucks’ hotel in New Jersey on the Friday night before the draft, exchanging trade ideas with Vancouver management.
Vancouver’s stated price -- the seventh overall pick Edmonton had, plus a second-rounder and a prospect -- might have been too high for the Oilers at the time.
Vancouver instead dealt Schneider to New Jersey for the ninth overall pick.
Yes, the Canucks were asking for more from the Oilers, but that’s the price to trade within your division, to a Canadian rival no less.
Whatever the case, the Oilers are now phoning other teams around the league looking for a netminder, and it’s sure hard not to think back at what could have been.
He had his face buried in his hands, his skates still on long after the game was over.
Minnesota center Mikael Granlund sat there dejected in the visitors’ room Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre, no doubt reliving the two breakaways he didn’t score on that night in a 4-1 defeat -- a game in which the Wild outplayed and outchanced the Leafs but couldn’t finish.
It’s been the story of their young season, really.
"These are tough nights. You just have to move on," the polite 21-year-old told me that night.
A guy like Granlund is among the young players who are going to be key if Minnesota gets going. He had zero goals and three assists in eight games entering the weekend.
I liked what I saw from him in person Tuesday night; he showed off great speed and skill. I’m not around the Wild very much, but from what I’ve seen the last few games, Granlund looks much better than a year ago when he struggled in his rookie year.
"I feel good, I feel comfortable compared to last season," Granlund said. "I know now I can play at this level. I just have to keep building and bury those chances."