This was different.
There was a scrum surrounding Andy Greene at his locker after a game, and there was a coach that publicly stated his belief in the 27-year old defenseman.
“I always feel that he is going to slow down, but he never does. He plays well every night. He does the same thing, it doesn’t matter which team we play against. I never thought he could never play this (well),” gushed Jacques Lemaire. “He’s got talent.”
Led by Greene’s first two goal NHL game, the Devils topped the Hurricanes in a more-nervous-than-it-needed-to-be 4-2 win at The Prudential Center Wednesday night. The Devils’ next game is Friday night at the Rock against Florida. At 21-7-1, the Devils lead the Atlantic Division by two points and trail Washington by one for the Conference lead and top spot overall in the league.
Greene said that his last two goal came in 2006-07 with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Lowell, Mass. Greene, who played sparingly with the Devils from 2006-07 through 2008-09, totaled five goals in over 131 games. This year, under Lemaire, Greene has skated in 26 games and scored five goals.
“I’m just trying to go out there and play,” said Greene, who passed on opportunities to rip former coach Brent Sutter. “You want to play every game and you want to be part of it. Sometimes when you’re in-and-out, it’s tough but it’s part of the job.”
Judging by the smiles, last night’s win was one that the Devils particularly enjoyed. The Devils certainly had not forgotten about losing to Carolina in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in spectacularly devastating fashion
Seven months after reaching the conference finals, the Hurricanes are the NHL’s worst team. At 7-18-5, the Hurricanes are the only franchise with less than 20 points this season.
The reason for the Hurricanes’ season-long slide has been their overall play. Carolina’s goaltenders (Cam Ward, Michael Leighton and Manny Legace) had a GAA of 3.00 and a save percentage of .889. The only player on the plus side of the ledger is recently called-up defenseman Brett Carson, who finished plus one in Monday’s night’s win. The rest of the team was a combined -119. The Hurricanes were 25th in the league with 437 penalty minutes—an average of 15.3 PIMs per game—and its shorthanded unit that had killed 80 percent of the power plays against.
The Hurricanes received positive lineup news with the return of franchise goaltender Ward. Ward had missed a month after being cut by a skate in early November. Maurice noted that Ward had had a “week of hard practices” and “we expect him to be ready.” Without Ward, who was among the goaltenders invited to the Canadian Men’s Olympic Tryout Camp in August, Carolina went 5-6-3 in 14 games.
“I’m real excited about (starting),” said a smiling Ward after the skate. “It’s been a long four weeks for me. I was saying that I didn’t know what hurt more: my knee or the fact that I had to be pushed to the sidelines and watch the games.
“I got the hunger to come back. You get an appreciation for the game and how lucky you are to do something like that.”
Ward’s joie de vivre did not last one full period. The Devils were up 2-0 after the first due to markers from Patrik Elias (4th) at 11:11 and Greene (4th) at 17:53. Elias’ goal was a soft centering pass to Nic Bergfors that appeared to deflect off a Carolina defenseman’s skate and slide under Ward. Greene’s was a bullet from above the circles after making a subtle now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t move on Erik Cole.
Greene’s fifth goal of the season and second of the game increased the lead to 3-0 early in the second. On a power play due to a Ray Whitney high stick, Greene led a rush from the Devils’ end, feathered a quick pass to Zach Parise along the half boards and the Devils’ leading goal scorer took a shot and Greene, standing on the door step, tapped the rebound past Ward at 13:55.
The 3-0 advantage lasted all off 43 seconds. Brandon Sutter scored his seventh of the season with a long shot that bounced off the ice and handcuffed Brodeur. Tuomo Ruutu’s seventh cut the deficit to 3-2 with 8:46.
“I was looking at the way we were playing. We started to turn the puck over at their blue line three or four times in a row. We stopped playing in their zone. We tried to be a little fancier, I guess. We tried to make plays that were had to make (and) it was not successful,” was Lemaire’s analysis. “I would say we started to do things…unsuccessful.”
In the final period, the Devils got back to playing Lemaire’s brand of hockey. The Devils consistently took away the neutral zone and the center of the ice, forcing the Hurricanes to go wide. When the ‘Canes were able to gain the zone, Martin Brodeur turned away their chances. He made seven saves in the period and 21 overall.
Rob Niedermayer scored the game’s last goal with a short-handed empty-netter with one second left. Ward gave up three goals on 30 shots.
Earlier in the day, Ward had been asked if he felt if he still had a shot to make the Canadian Men’s Olympic Team. Ward was among the goaltenders invited to the Canadian Men’s Olympic Tryout Camp in August.
“I’m not going to give up, that’s for sure. Obviously, this didn’t help me at all, missing a month. I have to play with the belief that I still have a chance,” the Hurricanes’ goaltender said.
Maurice announced that Brind’Amour would be in the lineup, after being scratched in Monday night’s 3-2 win in Pittsburgh. The win was the Hurricanes’ first road win of the season.
“Roddy’s back in the lineup,” said Maurice, who was then probed about his center’s state of mind after being told of Monday’s decision. “Roddy is a real good pro, so there wasn’t a long discussion. I told him at the morning skate (in Pittsburgh) and that was the end of it.
“It was difficult because you’re talking about a player who does the things you ask a player to do; prepare himself physically and mentally to play. He doesn’t make any mistakes. He competes. We just found ourselves for the first time this year with all the healthy options up front, all 13 of them. He was just the guy. It was not an easy decision to make, but at the same time, those things happen.”
Hurricanes’ Head Equipment Manager Wally Tatomir displayed following the ‘Canes early skate a skate blade holder that he had invented. Tatomir explained that it would take “five seconds” to replace a blade with his holder compared to current skates.
At 7-17-5, the Hurricanes are the only franchise with less than 20 points this season. Still, there was laughter, good-natured taunting after saves and goals during the Carolina Hurricanes early skate at The Prudential Center. It was the sounds and looks of a winning team, a group that seemingly enjoyed being at the rink and around each other, one that was feeling good.
“I would hope so. Because you can’t feel much worse than we did,” a steely Maurice said after the Hurricanes’ late morning skate in Newark.
With his 3-0 shutout of the Sabres in Buffalo Monday night, Brodeur is tied with the immortal Terry Sawchuk for the all-time shutout mark with 103. In his 16 year NHL career, Brodeur has shutout the Hartford-now-Carolina franchise seven times. The only franchises he has blanked more is Montreal (eight times), Philadelphia (nine times) and the Islanders (ten times). The only franchises he has not shutout in his Hall of Fame career are the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks.
Brodeur also needs five more appearances to break Patrick Roy’s record of 1,029 games. That record should fall before the end of the year, as the Devils have 10 games remaining this month.
“He doesn’t get rattled. His focus is good. He doesn’t feel pressure,” was Lemaire’s analysis of what makes his goaltender great. When asked if those traits are shared among great players, Lemaire said, “It’s a good way to look at it. The top players are like that. They know what to expect.” The coach also said that he has not seen a change in Brodeur from his first tenure with the Devils to now.
When it was suggested that Brodeur might be the greatest player of all-time, regardless of position, Lemaire said “it was hard to say” before naming Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Jean Beliveau as those on the short list of players who could make that claim.
Lemaire does not look at the 10 games left this month as an opportunity to open up ground on the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
“Every game is important. The team we are playing tonight is a team that is starting to play better and believing in themselves. So if you can find me an easy game, please come and tell me because I got to be sleeping.”
The announced attendance was 12.013. That number seemed off as there were scores of empty seats throughout.
Defenseman Bryce Salvador suffered a right knee injury after being boarded by Erik Cole in the right corner during the first period, but finished the game. He skated 22 shifts for 14:10.
Lemaire said that he did not see the hit but was concerned that Salvador was going to miss the game. Salvador did not think Cole’s hit was malicious, pointing out that Cole suffered a broken neck following a check from behind by Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik in 2006.
“It was one of those situations. You get pushed from behind,” said Salvador. “It’s one of those plays that happens. You’d like to think he didn’t do it on purpose.”
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This was different.