The Nashville Predators travel to the Prudential Center on Friday to take on Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Martin Brodeur and the rest of the New Jersey Devils. This'll be a stern test for Nashville, especially when either team has a man-advantage. Before tomorrow's game, though, John Fischer, managing editor of SBN's In Lou We Trust recently granted me a few moments of his time.
We talked Kovy, Lemaire, and more, so continue below for the interview...
1. Let's get this one out of the way. The Devils acquired Ilya Kovalchuk. We know he makes the Devils much more dangerous, but what's been the general feeling around the fan base about this deal?
The fans really like the deal and they know full well what Kovalchuk is capable of. During warm-ups, he got a big ovation from the fans and again when he came out for his first shift. There was a genuine feeling of electricity in the place prior to last night's game. Had he scored against Toronto, the place would have erupted - though it definitely did after Zajac's and Pandolfo's goals last night!
The most common question about the deal that I kept overhearing from fans was whether he was going to be re-signed or not. Personally, I feel that's a question better suited after the playoffs, but I haven't heard much bad about the trade.
2. Martin Brodeur isn't exactly a spring chicken anymore. How much of his game has he "lost", and how long do you foresee him lacing them up?
Here's Brodeur's last 8 seasons prior to this one. Brodeur's current numbers are: 33-17-2, 2.24 GAA, .918 Sv% and 7 shutouts. Those numbers compare very well with his recent seasons. Overall from what I've seen, the only part of the game that Brodeur has "lost" has been his puck movement with his stick and that's due to the trapezoid more than anything else. If he's beaten, it's often because someone else made a mistake elsewhere, he got screened, or a deflection changed direction of the shot at the last moment. He doesn't give up many soft goals and he's still the dominant goaltender he was in recent seasons.
So, no, I don't think his age or workload is a factor.
As far as how long will opponents dread seeing Brodeur in net: the final year of his contract is 2011-12, so I would expect that to be his last year of hockey. He'll be 40 then and have nothing really much more to prove to anyone by then. Then again, he's avoided so many injuries and he's in such great shape, that it wouldn't surprise me if he stuck around for a year or two after that.
3. Predator fans are likely acquainted with the NJD big guns- Brodeur, Parise, Elias, and now Kovalchuk. Besides those guys, who has a good chance to do irreparable damage to Nashville on Friday?
Travis Zajac is the team's top center and he's really come into form over the past month. He put up 7 goals and 9 assists in January when the Devils were struggling, and he's got a good shot as well as excellent chemistry with Parise. Parise may do a lot down low, but it could be Zajac that ends up burning Nashville for goals.
Likewise, the captain of the Devils, Jamie Langenbrunner is on pace to a career high in points. Sometimes he'll be with Parise and Zajac, drifting out a little bit to utilize his strong, low slapshot off the cycle. Other times, he'll be on the second or third line creating plays from either down low or up by the circles. It's no mistake he has 33 assists already this season. I feel Nashville's defense will need to be especially prepared for those two on top of Parise, Kovalchuk, and Elias.
Well, it's been three seasons at the Rock and so far business has gone well. The team's attendance isn't eye-openingly great, but now the team is starting to be more aggressive in marketing themselves and there have been no issues with ownership. The Prudential Center, which the Devils own in a public/private partnership with Newark, has recently attracted a deal to build a 150-room hotel right next to the arena. This is actually big news because it will be Newark's first hotel being built in 38 years.
5. Predator fans are familiar with Jacques Lemaire from his Minnesota days. Has he changed his stereotyped style, and what can we expect out of New Jersey when the puck drops?
I don't understand why so many people still think the Devils are a defense-all-the-time team who still employ the neutral zone trap? If the Devils do trap, it's for situational purposes, no more than most other teams. Lemaire has instructed the team to be more aggressive on offense than they have been under Brent Sutter last season. Yes, the Devils do utilize counter-attacks and transition plays on offense; but the defensemen are leading breakouts, defensemen are pinching in, and the Devils mix up their forechecking. They're not sitting back after a one or two goal lead all the time.
What can be expected? Given how inconsistent the Devils have been throughout January and likely still are, I'm not really sure. Maybe the Devils will come out strong? Maybe they will and go out of sync? I do not know. How they look at MSG, and in their next two games against Philadelphia will be better indicators of what to expect on Friday against Nashville.
As you may have noticed, this interview was conducted about two days after the Kovalchuk trade. Many thanks to John for his time, and we certainly wish the Devils the best of luck immediately following tomorrow's game...look for me in the same feature of at In Lou We Trust tomorrow.