Devils

Schwei On Ice: Devils Hoping For Fantastic Finish

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Mike Knuble #22 of the Washington Capitals hits Dainius Zubrus #8 of the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 18, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Mike Knuble #22 of the Washington Capitals hits Dainius Zubrus #8 of the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 18, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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By John Schweibacher
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There are just 10 games remaining for the New Jersey Devils in the 2010-11 regular season and they will need a big finish if they are to maintain their streak of 13 straight post-season appearances. The Devils closed out the 2005-06 season with 11 consecutive wins to claim the Atlantic Division title, in what was their best finish to a season in club history. Here are New Jersey’s best-ever records over the final 10 games of a regular season:

· 2005-06 10-0-0 20 pts
· 1987-88 8-1-1 17 pts
· 1998-99 8-2-0 16 pts
· 2000-01 8-2-0 16 pts
· 2001-02 8-2-0 16 pts

The Devils best stretch run under Jacques Lemaire was matched last year in the head coach’s return to New Jersey. Here is how the Devils have fared down the stretch in the previous seasons under Lemaire:

· 1993-94 5-4-1 11 pts
· 1994-95 5-4-1 11 pts
· 1995-96 4-5-1 9 pts
· 1996-97 6-3-1 13 pts
· 1997-98 3-5-2 8 pts
· 2009-10 5-2-3 13 pts

Despite the back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Washington last week, the Devils are still playing at a points-percentage clip above .800 since the midway point of the season. Credit MSG-Plus for this list; some of the biggest improvements in the second-half of a season over the first-half in the NHL and the other three major pro sports:

Season Team League 1st Half Win % 2nd Half Win %

· 2010-11 New Jersey NHL .268 .806*
· 1979-80 Montreal NHL .525 .813
· 1983-84 Washington NHL .488 .775
· 2004-05 Denver NBA .415 .780
· 1914 Boston Braves (NL) .434 .792
· 1984 Green Bay NFL .125 .875

(*=through 3/20)

Here’s a look at what went wrong and then went right for the other teams on this list and some of the similarities between them and this season’s Devils club:

· 1979-80 Montreal Canadiens: The four-time defending Cup champs were in transition that season, losing Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden and Jacques Lemaire to retirement as well as Coach Scotty Bowman, who left to take over as GM/Coach in Buffalo. His replacement, Bernie Geoffrion, lasted just 30 games into the season. Claude Ruel took over and led the Habs to the strong finish, which included 20 straight wins on home-ice to close out the season. Montreal’s quest for a 5th straight title ended in the second round of the playoffs with a stunning Game 7 defeat against Minnesota at the Forum.

· 1983-84: Washington Capitals: Coach Bryan Murray’s club was coming off their first ever post-season appearance but got out of the gate with losses in each of their first seven games of the season. The Caps recovered, bolstered by the early-season acquisition of Larry Murphy who joined 19-year old Scott Stevens and Rod Langway on defense, to get back to around .500 by mid-season. A 16-1-1 stretch in January and February helped lift Washington to an eventual 101-point season. The Capitals swept Philadelphia in the opening round of the playoffs and took the first game of their next series with the four-time cup champion Islanders before bowing out in five.

· 2004-05 Denver Nuggets: After going just 13 and 15 under Jeff Bzdelic, who was fired in late December, and 4 and 10 for interim coach Michael Cooper, the 17 and 25 Nuggets turned to George Karl to rescue their season. Karl led Denver to a 32-8 mark to finish the year, which ranks as the best record and winning percentage ever by a mid-season replacement coach in NBA history. The Nuggets also were 25-4 after the All-Star break, the fifth-best post All-Star record in NBA history. Denver took a 49-33 regular season record to the playoffs where they stunned the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of their opening round series before losing in five games.

· 1914 Boston Braves: The “Miracle Braves” began the 1914 season with just four wins in their first 22 games and were in last place in the eight-team National League on the 4th of July. Boston then turned things around under second-year manager George Stallings, winning 12 of its next 16 games–all on the road. They caught the 1st place Giants in early September and finished with a remarkable 70 wins in their last 89 games. Boston then beat Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in the World Series, with the first four-game sweep ever in the Fall Classic.

· 1984 Green Bay Packers: Forrest Gregg, the Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman for Green Bay during the Vince Lombardi era, was in his first season as Packers head coach that season. Things started well enough for Green Bay, with a 24-23 win over St. Louis, but the Packers proceeded to lose their next seven games in a row. 35-year-old quarterback Lynn Dickey finally got the offense going, throwing four touchdown passes in a 41-9 win over Detroit in week nine. Outside of a loss to the same Lions in their Thanksgiving Day rematch, Green Bay won all of its remaining games, outscoring its opponents 253-118 to salvage an 8-8 season, but fell just one win short of a wild-card berth.

Jacques Lemaire will coach his 500th game New Jersey for the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night. Only four other coaches have been behind the bench for any of the local teams for 500 or more games:

· Al Arbour NYI 1,500 (1973-74 to 1985-86), (1989-90 to 1993-94) & (2007-08)

· Emile Francis NYR 654 (1965-66 to 1967-68), (1969-70 to 1972-73) & (1973-74 to 1974-75)

· Lester Patrick NYR 604 (1926-27 to 1938-39)

· Frank Boucher NYR 527 (1939-40 to 1948-49 & 1953-54)

· Jacques Lemaire NJD 500 (1993-94 to 1997-98), (2009-10) & (2010-11)

Martin Brodeur extended his NHL career record for shutouts by a goaltender to 115 with his 3-0 win at Columbus, in which the Blue Jackets had only 13 shots on goal. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brodeur’s 13 saves were the third fewest he’s made in any of his regular-season shutouts. He stopped nine shots in a shutout against the Capitals back on December 4th, 2003 and 11 vs. the Rangers almost exactly 10 years to the day prior to his shutout in Columbus, March 21st, 2001.

The Devils road trip continues this week with stops in Boston, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. New Jersey is winless in its two meetings with the Bruins this season, losing 4-1 at home back on October 16th and 3-0 in Boston on November 15th. The last time the Devils lost both games on the road to the Bruins in a season was back in 1994-95 but New Jersey proceeded to win all three post-season contests that spring, in what was the final season of the Boston Garden.

New Jersey will face the Penguins Friday night in Pittsburgh. The Devils dropped their first-ever meeting with the Pens in their new home; Mellon Arena, 2-1, back on December 6th. The two clubs will face-off again in Pittsburgh on April 5th.

The Devils wrap up the road swing Saturday night in Buffalo. New Jersey won the previous road meeting with the Sabres, 1-0, in overtime back on October 13th for what was their first win of the season. The Devils have lost just twice in regulation in their last 15 games in Buffalo, going 9-2-4 at HSBC Arena dating back to February 12th, 2002.

Schwei’s Plus/Minus:

Minus: Blanked. Devils 3-0 shutout loss to Capitals was the first since a 2-0 loss to the Islanders the day after Thanksgiving and the first since Jacques Lemaire took over as head coach.

Minus: Losing Streak. Back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Washington give New Jersey its first pair of consecutive defeats since dropping four straight in early January.

Plus: Penalty-Kill. New Jersey has now killed off 36 of their last 40 shorthanded situations over their past 18 games dating back to February 10th and come into the week with the 8th-best penalty-killing rank in the NHL.

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