The Thrashers are head to New Jersey to take on the Devils this Friday. The Thrashers have had some wild high-scoring games against Brodeur since the lockout so I'm less apprehensive about facing him these days. The Devils are off to a 3-2 start that has them in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. The Thrashers are 2-1 but have played just 3 games so far. Because there isn't much data this early in the season, I thought it might be good to check in with our resident SB Nation Devils writer John Fischer. He is the head guy over at In Lou We Trust.
BWA: What has been a pleasant surprise so far this season for the Devils?
ILWT: One pleasant surprise on the Devils has been the acquisition of Rob Niedermayer. I was initially cool on the signing in that it came at the end of training camp, he hasn't played center in the last 5 years, and when he did play center, he wasn't really good at faceoffs. While his faceoff percentage is only 48%, he's played very well on the third line and even has 2 goals and 2 assists already. Pretty impressive for a start considering his best offensive year was in 1995-96 and his linemates has been defensive winger Jay Pandolfo and either Brian Rolston or David Clarkson on the right.
BWA: What has been an unpleasant surprise for the Devils?
ILWT: Well, other than the first two games of the season and that Patrik Elias had to have scar tissue removed from his groin; one big unpleasant surprise has been the play of Johnny Oduya. Sure, his on-ice/off-ice numbers look good as he's paired with Paul Martin; but, Martin has played like a beast in the last two games and has really carried that pairing. Oduya, on the other hand, has been either exposed, frozen, or just plain beaten for goals so far this season. Offensive contributions? What offensive contributions? Martin's even leading the breakouts instead of Oduya. He's having a rough start to the season and for someone who signed a sweet deal, you'd expect more and sooner.
BWA: Is there anything about the Thrashers that causes you concern?
ILWT: That first line of Kovalchuk-Antropov-Little worries me. The Devils couldn't keep the the Capitals' top unit of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble (they switched him in for Semin) off the board, but they were able to "limit" their damage. Still, they kept aggressive and up until the last 10 minutes or so, they were quite threatening. Now, I'm sure you'll instantly point out that Atlanta's first line isn't as accomplished/talented, but all three players will give the Devils' defense a handful. Hopefully, they don't wilt against them.
BWA: What is your take on Clemmenson's performance while Brodeur was out last season? Does that in any way dim Marty's reputation?
ILWT: The expectations for Clemmensen (and by extension Weekes) were forgiving when they stepped in. When they got their first few starts, almost every save was applauded at home to show support and confidence. Clemmensen did put up good numbers and played far better than anyone would have expected back in November. He did very well and was an integral part of the Devils' success in the regular season. That said, I don't think it diminishes Brodeur's reputation for two reasons. First, Brodeur's an all-world goaltender, someone playing well in his place for a few months doesn't take away any of his accomplishments or skills. Second, you, I, and all the fans knew Brodeur would be back--and he'd have something to play for. No one really thought Clemmensen would be the starter for the playoffs--he just had to fill in for a few months and did just that. At the end of the day, Brodeur's calm and confident hybrid style is preferred to Clemmensen's sometimes-shaky, yet somehow effective form.
BWA: As a long time Devils observer what is your feeling about the return of Jacques Lemaire? (i.e. Do you enjoy watching paint dry?)
ILWT: I forgive your admission of not seeing the Devils play any games this season, Mr. Burnside.
Honestly, I wasn't excited about the signing for the rationale that you suggest and the media came right out and claimed would happen. Yet, Lemaire is running the team like Brent Sutter did with a few tweaks--he's been more aggressive with the defensemen, having them lead breakouts, carry the puck into the zone, and encouraging them to pinch in. They aren't dropping into a 1-2-2 with any regularity. He's putting 4 forwards out in power play situations (even in OT, he put Rolston-Langenbrunner-Zajac-Parise against the Caps on a PP, and it nearly worked if it wasn't for Parise being so unfortunate!), though I think he needs to have the team work harder on special teams play. I'd also like to see him encourage improved board play like Sutter preached prior to and during the 2008-09 season, as most of the players who made that work are still there. But so far, I like what I'm seeing from Lemaire and it's far, far different from what the critics and haters claimed it would be.
ILWT: Greatest of all time - in any sport.
BWA: How did you feel after ending in a tie with me after the first week of our SB Nation head-to-head fantasy hockey league? Better or worse than kissing your sister?
Actually, I'm OK with it. Considering my auto-draft gave me Johan Franzen.