December 13, 2019 • NEW JERSEY DEVILS NEWS & CLIPS
- LOCAL PRINT/WEB
- TV/VIDEO LINKS
- RADIO LINKS
- NATIONAL PRINT/WEB
The Devils will face-off against the Colorado Avalanche tonight at 9:00 PM ET at Pepsi Center.
Kevin Rooney and Jesper Bratt spoke with Chris Ryan, NJ Advanced Media, about their new head coach, Alain Nasreddine, “That was the first thing he said to us. You’ve got to skate. That’s the way our team is built,” forward Kevin Rooney said. “A couple times he’s shut practice down to let us know we can’t just go through the motions out there. If you do that in practice, it’s going to translate to the games. I think it’s been a big help for us.”
“That’s something we talk about every day. It’s something we try to push each other for too,” Bratt said. “I think because we’re maybe not the biggest team, we have to play the way our team is built. Speed for sure is the thing that signifies our game. So it’s something we try to build on during practice, and it’s going to benefit the team during games.”
Chris Wescott, newjerseydevils.com, wrote about Grace Eline, the Devils Hockey Fights Cancer honorary captain. Find that story here, https://www.nhl.com/devils/bigread/gracesfight
2) LOCAL PRINT/WEB
- What Devils’ Alain Nasreddine has harped on most to help improve team’s play
by Chris Ryan, NJ Advanced Media
DENVER — Thursday was just the third practice for the Devils under interim coach Alain Nasreddine due to a sporadic schedule featuring games and long travel. Major system changes won’t happen overnight, and the coach has been steadily implementing some small things to tweak the team’s game.
But in the 10 days since John Hynes was fired and Nasreddine was bumped up to the top position behind the bench, one word has been been clear in every message: speed.
“That was the first thing he said to us. You’ve got to skate. That’s the way our team is built,” forward Kevin Rooney said. “A couple times he’s shut practice down to let us know we can’t just go through the motions out there. If you do that in practice, it’s going to translate to the games. I think it’s been a big help for us.”
Speed, of course, was part of Hynes’ goal during his four-plus seasons as head coach, but in Nasreddine’s mind, it was an aspect that was absent from the team’s game too often in 2019-20.
So the main emphasis entering every practice has been to run each drill as if it was part of a regular game, and the hope has been to see that pace translate to game days.
On a team that features Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Jesper Boqvist, Nico Hischier, Taylor Hall, Miles Wood and more, it’s easy to understand where Nasreddine is coming from.
“That’s something we talk about every day. It’s something we try to push each other for too,” Bratt said. “I think because we’re maybe not the biggest team, we have to play the way our team is built. Speed for sure is the thing that signifies our game. So it’s something we try to build on during practice, and it’s going to benefit the team during games.”
Nasreddine has continued to hold individual meetings with players after sitting down with each player following the coaching change.
Along with making sure each person is on the same page, it’s allowed him to get to better know each skater’s thoughts and concerns, plus help with individual aspects of their games.
“Sometimes it’s just a little something that I might not be aware, or I’ll share with them, a little bit of my vision. That’s what we addressed early on, is where do I see this team going. Early on we talked about style of play and make sure that guys will buy in. So those are the little things we talked about 1-on-1. At the same time, get to know them even better, but it’s not like I didn’t know Taylor Hall or guys like them. We have a pretty good relationship with all of them.”
- Grace’s Fight
BY CHRIS WESCOTT
“I didn’t have any headaches. I wasn’t in pain. I was feeling… perfect.
“I didn’t feel like anything was wrong with me.”
Grace Eline was completely unaware, wrapped up in much more important matters, such as playing sports, enjoying time with friends, being a child.
The happy and energetic, young girl wasn’t lethargic. There were no tangible signs of illness. The only sign her family picked up on was that she had been drinking a lot of water and her growth wasn’t the same as the rest of the kids in her age group. So 10-year-old Grace underwent some tests.
“I noticed a switch one day that she was just drinking a lot of water,” said Grace’s mother, Aubrey. “You Google it and it’s all these other little things like diabetes and all this, and pediatricians said she would deteriorate in a hot second so it’s not. But then when her growth consistently slowed down and she was always off the charts, it was like, ‘okay, you’ve been saying something’s off now and there’s actually something that’s off, so let’s go to the endocrinologist.’
“And that’s where she ran a bunch of tests and everything pretty much came back fine. So you’re like, ‘oh, okay.’
“Nowhere ever in our brains was ‘cancer’ in there at all… like, never.”
Despite green lights all the way, the endocrinologist suggested an MRI again – just to be safe.
“I mean, I didn’t really understand what was wrong, because we had so many doctor appointments and I didn’t even know what we were doing,” said Grace. “So, it was kind of confusing to me.”
“We didn’t think anything of it,” said Aubrey.
The Eline family didn’t grasp the significance of the brain MRI until after it was done, but still didn’t think anything serious would come from it.
“I had never had an MRI before or I’ve never had to not eat [on the day of] tests,” said Grace. “That kind of confused me and I got really like annoyed from it and I just didn’t understand anything about it.”
Throughout all the tests, the poking and prodding, Grace says the most annoying part of it all was not being able to eat her favorite food – pasta – on certain test days. And the MRI machine was also intimidating.
“Sometimes, I got really scared, like my first time [in the MRI machine] I was so scared and I just couldn’t stay still because you’re supposed to stay still. It really bothered me.”
That MRI, as annoying as it was for Grace, helped paint the picture of why she was having issues and it provided a sinister diagnosis.
“That day she had that MRI, they called us, in essence, right away and said, ‘you need to come in right now,'” said Aubrey.
The butterflies in the stomachs of Grace’s parents began to flutter.
“My husband and I went in and we spoke to the endocrinologist, who did not look well when we got there,” said Aubrey. “And we were like, ‘okay, this must be serious because she doesn’t look good. And she’s the doctor.'”
The doctor told the parents that they had found a mass on her brain and, “you absolutely need to deal with it.”
Heads spinning, Grace’s parents listened in a fog as the doctor rapidly discussed next steps – where they’d go next, what procedures were to follow.
“We were just in complete and total shock,” said Aubrey. “And I don’t think it had even fully set in what she said at the time, because you’re just in this blissfully unaware place. You know she had some issues but did not think the severity of it at all.”
The Eline family began Googling Grace’s tumor and immediately stopped, not wanting to spiral down the rabbit hole of what this meant for their daughter. Instead, the Elines rallied.
“My husband and I, we kind of decided, ‘alright, we’ve got to kick into gear and figure this out.’ And that’s when we just hit the ground running.”
As for Grace’s initial reactions, she was more concerned about her passion for sports than her health.
“I mean, I was really sad cause I found out that I had to stop my softball and my gymnastics. So, it was not that fun for me,” she said.
Leave it to a 10-year-old girl to blow your mind with her perspective on life.
Here’s Grace Eline, a young and vibrant girl who has just been told she has brain cancer. And all she can think about is how she’ll have to stop playing sports. Her biggest worry during testing was not being able to eat pasta.
“Yes,” laughed Aubrey. “Fasting was tragic for her, which I can totally understand that.”
The gravity of the situation wasn’t lost on her, but Grace just had different priorities and concerns. And she showed her amazing ability to look past the darkest times and think of the good. A lesson Grace can teach us all.
The Big Fight
“So, the first part of Grace’s treatment was at the Valerie Fund at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center,” said Aubrey. “And then the second part of her treatment was at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.”
The Elines were lucky to be just 20-30 minutes away from either treatment center and look back on their experience with gratitude.
“We honestly received world-renowned care.”
The care Grace received at those facilities has made her steadfast in her plans to become a doctor when she grows up.
“It made me realize they do so much,” said Grace. “I didn’t realize that there were more than one type of doctor. I thought that there was just a regular doctor that you go to for your shots and your checkups. But then when I went to the hospital, I realized that there’s so many levels and each level has so many divisions of doctors. That was pretty cool. And I realized that they do so much for people and I realized there’s so many types of medical things.”
There’s no doubt in Grace’s mother’s mind that her daughter will be a doctor some day, all so she can help young kids go through what she went through.
“It’s if, it’s when. When she becomes a doctor,” said Aubrey. “I’m 100 percent. I would not be surprised. She said it one day when she was laying there and doing chemo. And she was like, ‘I think I’m going to do that because I’ll be really good at telling kids whether it’s going to hurt or not because she said that wouldn’t hurt and that hurt!'”
Aubrey allowed herself another chuckle and a smile at the memory.
“I think when she’s a doctor, I won’t be surprised. But I also think she’ll be a good one because she’ll be able to speak authentically to this was good and this was not so good and here’s what to expect. I think she’ll do a good job at that.”
And Grace would certainly know what to expect.
Her first day of chemo was incredibly tough on the Eline family. They all went to the hospital to support her and there she was, “bopping around. She’s cool, she’s got her hair, she feels fine.”
But chemo is cumulative and it breaks you down. And they knew what was coming.
10 days in, Grace loses her hair.
“Having it literally falling out in your hands is a whole other experience. It’s surreal.”
But the Eline family once again rallied to Grace’s side. Her little brother and her close friend shaved their heads. They demanded to shave their heads before Grace so she wouldn’t have a bare head alone.
“That was a nice glimmer of hope that we had for a hot second,” Aubrey said of the actions of Grace’s brother and friend. “It really helped her not feel like she was this only kid on the island, going through this day in and day out. It’s a lot. These treatments are daily.”
Her brother would be by her side when she was vomiting in the hallway, bucket in hand, comforting his sister.
The dramatic, confusing and scary days piled up for the Eline family.
“Cancer is weird, and it is not nice,” said Aubrey.
“It was really hard not to focus on my stomach hurting or if I was in some sort of pain,” Grace said, reflecting on the toughest moments of treatment.
“I would usually try to think about all the fun activities I would get to do at the hospital like painting and I would try and think about what I would paint when the art therapist came.”
Grace also passed the time between treatments dancing to Pitbull or Taylor Swift, a common sight in the Eline household. But it wasn’t always easy to have fun or look for positives.
“[My worst day] was when I got my picc line in, I think. I couldn’t eat for the test and it was also the first time I couldn’t drink at all. So I woke up really early and just didn’t know what was going on and I had to wait a lot.
“I met with a lot of different doctors, which was really confusing, and I didn’t really know what was happening. And on the last day of chemo, it just felt so long. I didn’t really do much that day because I was so tired and I didn’t feel good, so it felt longer than most days, even though it really wasn’t.”
The day Grace got her picc line put in sticks out the most to her mother as the worst day of her treatment, for multiple reasons.
“For our entire family, that was a very memorable day,” Aubrey said. “It was surgery. It was very real because now she’s got this thing in her arm, 24/7. Okay, now you can’t shower like a regular person. You cannot do sports. You cannot swim.
“I think that’s when that hit her and it hurt all of us, that you’re not going to have a normal summer. She loves camp and swimming and the whole thing, and you’re not going to have any of that this summer. And you can have a moment of, ‘this is so not fair.'”
Grace’s childhood was being stolen away by illness and there was nothing her family could do about it.
Again, leave it to Grace to put things in perspective.
“I remember sitting on her bed and she was like, ‘if it happens to me, it doesn’t happen to somebody else.'”
She was willing to take on the pain and frustrations of her ailment and the treatment in the hopes that the universe would somehow balance things out and spare some other child of the same difficulties.
“You can go to a very dark place,” said Aubrey. “And again, we were going to find the light and find the positive and understand that it could be so much worse.”
“It might soften a little, I imagine, as years pass and I know her scans will be clear, but I think it’ll never fully go away.”
Burned in the minds of Aubrey, and the rest of the Eline family are the shadows of Grace’s battle with cancer.
“I think that’s the piece that we’re all sort of dealing with,” said Aubrey. “There’s your life before cancer and your life after cancer. [That fear and uncertainty] is always going to be there. And I wish we could go back to April 8th, 2018, before we even knew she had a tumor.”
But you can’t.
“You finish treatment and you think you walk away and you’re like, ‘okay, we’re totally going to be who we were that day before we learned anything. And you’re not.”
When Grace was given the all clear from the doctors, it was a moment that should have been celebrated immediately. But for the Eline family, even that wonderful and joyous occasion was clouded with a surreal feeling.
When her doctor called Grace’s family she told them, “you can be happy.”
But it was a weird thing to feel happy after all the uncertainty and struggle they had been through. But the doctor again reiterated.
“You can breathe.”
She told them they should go for ice cream. So they asked Grace if she’d like to do that, but she instead chose a hibachi dinner.
“Like, are we really going for hibachi because Grace doesn’t have cancer and she’s 10? Like, what? It was very surreal. But it also kind of marked an achievement that we made it through, that she had a positive outcome,” said Aubrey.
“So you shake it off and are like, ‘yeah, let’s go be normal people for a night!’ And it’s so surreal. How do you move forward now? What’s next?”
But it’s been months since that hibachi dinner and the shadow of Grace’s fight is still there.
As Aubrey goes on to explain, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Grace’s battle with cancer sticks with them today. It became a rallying point for the Eline family and drove them to meet so many great people along the way. The doctors and hospital staff were there for them when they needed them the most. Their family members and friends stayed by their side to keep the darkness from overtaking them.
And for Grace, her situation is not one to throw into some box in the back of her head and throw away the key. She rallied from this as well.
“I think that the girl that I was when I started treatment, I think I was kind of like a wimp,” she said, citing her fear of the medical tests and the challenge ahead of her.
“And now, I just feel more strong. Nothing scares me anymore.”
And then there was Grace.
A small figure, walking tentatively, yet confidently down the purple carpet to join the captains at center ice for a ceremonial puck drop on Hockey Fights Cancer Night in Newark. The Nov. 23 game at Prudential Center was a tribute to all of those who have lost the fight to cancer, those who have won, and those who are in the fight.
But Grace’s story and her connection to the Devils began to shape the evening as a tribute to her strength, and to her.
Grace was signed to a one-day contract with the club by General Manager Ray Shero in his office ahead of the game. She read the starting lineup in the Devils locker room to cheers from the players and staff.
Days prior to the night, Grace skated out for practice with the Devils players and staff. She was nervous, but excited.
The former field hockey player hadn’t had much experience with ice hockey, but she pushed forward and jumped on the ice regardless.
“I’d watched it a few times before and like I’d seen little clips of it and seen some friends that have played it,” she said.
After experiencing the practice with the players, Grace became a bigger fan of the sport than before.
“I got to see how they practice and they seem like a pretty good team,” she said with a smile.
And the exclusivity of the day was not lost on her young mind. Grace understood the opportunity to skate with an NHL team is not something the public generally gets to experience. So she soaked it all in, chatting with all the players and getting shooting tips from Jack Hughes, among others.
“I mean, I felt really happy because I realized that not everybody gets to do this kind of stuff,” she said. “So I took advantage of it and I did all that I could.
“It’s happy because this is like… it’s kind of, for me, it’s like a celebration. So that makes me happy.”
Flash forward to Nov. 23 and Hockey Fights Cancer continued that celebration of Grace and her successful battle with cancer.
“It’s an amazing experience, you know, to see Grace smile,” her father Dan said. “Getting to meet players and seeing, really, how awesome the players were with interacting with her and how the whole community, the sports community, really kind of lights up to see us… to see the Devils put all of their effort behind [beating] cancer and [spreading] the awareness about it, is absolutely amazing.”
It’s hard not to reflect on the small, but mighty, symbol of this year’s Hockey Fights Cancer initiative in Newark, and how far she’s come from the first diagnosis.
“I mean, she’s always cared for others,” her mother said. “But I think it’s on a whole different magnitude now. I think she realizes that she is fortunate and she is blessed and that this happened to her for a reason. I think she has taken it on herself to be the voice for other children. She’s chosen that…
“She’s come out of it stronger and able to understand the impact her life can have. And I think that’s really taken her out of this sort of a little protected bubble and shown her what is out there and what she can do. I think it’s really empowered her, which I think sounds maybe weird. But I do think it’s really empowered her and she’s grown up. I mean, most of these kids do grow up in this process but I think she now realizes the power she has to kind of pay it forward or help others, and make a difference in the world.”
It’s easy to look at a night like the one at Prudential Center last month and say it’s great that these organizations around the NHL would do something like this. It’s fantastic that money was raised and the spreading of awareness definitely matters.
But, honestly, it’s Grace’s story – and others like it – that are the ones that need to be told. Cancer affects so many families around the world that when someone like Grace can battle through and show it’s not impossible and you can come out of it stronger – that is truly inspiring.
As Grace wrapped up her interview for this piece, she was asked if there was anything else she’d like to add.
Like the true professional, she smiled politely and said, “thank you, for having me.”
Thank you, for sharing your strength and wisdom, and for spreading happiness, positivity, and hope.
- PREVIEW: Devils at Avalanche
by Marc Ciampa / NewJerseyDevils.com
The New Jersey Devils continue their four-game road trip with a contest against the Colorado Avalanche tonight.
You can watch the game on MSG+ or listen on the Devils Hockey Network.
DEVILS NOW | McLeod’s Opportunity
- 01:36 • December 12th, 2019
Read the game preview below and check back for lineup updates, videos, our Pre-Game Report and more.
YOUR GAME-DAY ESSENTIALS
GAME DAY VIDEO
COMING SOON – DEVILS:60 | Chris Wescott reports on the key storylines prior to tonight’s game around noon today
COMING SOON – Devils Pre-Game Interviews
COMING SOON – PRE-GAME RAW | Devils interim head coach Alain Nasreddine
BY THE NUMBERS
TV & RADIO
You can watch tonight’s game within the Devils region on MSG+.
You can listen to tonight’s game on the Devils Radio Network.
INSIDE THE DEVILS
Connor Carrick recalled, Devils practice Thursday in Denver and more news and notes from the past few days.
DENVER, CO – Check back around 3:00 PM ET for a full pre-game report.
— Marc Ciampa, NewJerseyDevils.com
DEVILS (9-16-5) at AVALANCHE (20-6-3)
TV: 9:00 p.m. ET; Televised on MSG+
Tonight’s game is the first of two meetings between the two teams this season.
Last season, Colorado won both games, by scores of 3-0 and 5-3. Taylor Hallled all Devils with three points (one goal, two assists) despite only playing in one game.
Nathan MacKinnon led the way for the Avs with a goal and four assists for five points against the Devils last year.
Devils team scope:
The Devils have dropped their last six games in a row (0-5-1) as they look to right the ship tonight against the Avalanche.
Taylor Hall leads the Devils with 25 points in 30 games. Kyle Palmieri is second on the club with 19 points and leads with 11 goals.
Nico Hischier could potentially return to the lineup tonight after missing three games due to illness. He has 16 points in 25 games.
Avalanche team scope:
The Avalanche are red hot with a record of 7-0-1 in their last eight games. They are in top spot in the tough Central Division, one point up on the St. Louis Blues.
Nathan MacKinnon leads the Avs in scoring with 48 points in 31 games. He’s also tops on the team with 19 goals. MacKinnon is tied with Boston’s Brad Marchand for third in the NHL in points and tied with Toronto’s Auston Matthews for sixth in the NHL in goals.
By the Numbers:
The Devils have an all-time record in Colorado of 8-11-3 since the Avalanche moved from Quebec to Denver in 1995. If you count the Devils franchise’s time as the Colorado Rockies, their record in Colorado is 86-127-50.
When leading after one period, the Avalanche are 11-0-2 and when leading after two, the Avs are 15-0-1. They’re also very good when tied after one at 5-2-1 and when tied after two at 5-1-1.
Colorado’s been outshot in 19 games this season and only outshot their opponent 10 times. Oddly enough, they have a better record when being outshot (13-3-3) than when outshooting (5-5-0). The Avs have been badly outshot in the third period of games this season, 340-289 but have scored 30 while only allowing 20 in the final frame.
Devils – Connor Carrick is on IR; Nico Hischier (illness) is probable; Matt Tennyson (upper body) is on IR
Avalanche – Colin Wilson (lower body) is on IR; Erik Johnson (lower body) is on IR; Cale Makar (upper body) is day-to-day; Philipp Grubbauer (undisclosed) is day-to-day
- The NJ Devils say they’re sick of losing, so why aren’t they playing like it?
By Abbey Mastracco, NHL writer
WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Two days removed from a bad loss in Dallas and the anger and disappointment remain in the New Jersey Devils’ locker room. Wayne Simmonds ended Wednesday’s practice by expressing some displeasure with Miles Wood’s effort level during a battle drill and assistant coach Peter Horachek ended up in the hospital with a gash in the back of his head after he was upended on the ice during an earlier drill.
It’s been a chaotic season for the Devils and it’s only December. But the emotion showed in this one practice at a rink in a Denver suburb might have been a good thing. That practice skirmish between Simmonds and Wood wasn’t something interim coach Alain Nasreddine viewed negatively.
Emotion shows they care, and it’s easy to stop caring after six straight losses.
“I don’t mind it,” Nasreddine said. “Anytime you get competitive, sometimes this stuff is going to happen. It happened a little bit today. I have no issue with it at all. It’s actually good to see guys getting a little emotional. We didn’t have much of it last game.”
They sure didn’t.
Typically, teams want to forget about bad losses and move forward quickly. But they haven’t won since Thanksgiving in Montreal and since then, coach John Hynes was fired and the rumors about their best player, Taylor Hall, have hit a fever pitch. Especially considering the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey’s next opponent, has inquired about the price to acquire him in a trade.
So maybe the usual methods of wiping the slate clean after a bad loss may not be working. If the Devils are as angry as they say they are, then they might want to try channeling that anger into their play.
“I feel like the biggest thing is being sick of losing,” forward Pavel Zacha said. “I don’t think it’s the system or anything or the preparation, it’s being ready to play better.”
Some have questioned the response of the team under Nasreddine, which is natural after four straight losses to begin his tenure. In the first two games, the team felt they made progress. He had them skating more, using their speed to break out of the defensive zone and he had them playing hard. But there was zero progress in the second two games, losses in Nashville and Dallas.
And against the Stars, the effort level was at an all-time low, something the team still isn’t really sitting well with the group.
“That was a tough night,” alternate captain Travis Zajac said. “A tough start again. It’s one of those ones we didn’t look like we had legs and didn’t look like we had energy. And then you compound that with just playing the way we did to start. It just didn’t end well. But we got a chance now to get back at it and get back to how he envisions this team and how he wants us to play.
“And we know we’re capable of doing that because we’ve seen that game from us before.”
The team maintains that their lack of effort against the Stars was not an indictment against Nasreddine or any of the other coaches. Much like when John Hynes was behind the bench, they
“It doesn’t matter what the coach says,” defenseman Sami Vatanen said. “If we’re not doing anything, it’s not going to help. It starts in here and starts with the players. We’ve got to be ready every day and if we want to win games we’ve got to play 60 minutes hard and we’ve got to work hard and skate and do everything right.”
– Nico Hischier will likely return to the lineup Friday in Colorado. The center had been out with an illness over the weekend and placed on injured reserve. Blake Coleman is also battling the flu but does not think he’ll need to be held out of the lineup. Michael McLeod is an option should one or both need to sit out the game against the Avalanche or Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes.
“I’m sure (McLeod) is antsy to get in but he brings energy to our group,” Nasreddine said. “And for him, he knows his he’s close, he’s played few games in the past, so it’s a matter of for him to get that chance and now make it a n
3) TV/VIDEO LINKS –
- New Jersey Devils help bring holiday cheer on annual ‘Day of Giving
by News 12
2. DEVILS NOW | McLeod’s Opportunity
4) RADIO LINKS –
5) NATIONAL PRINT/WEB –
- Avalanche Faces Devils to Close Out Homestand
by Zach Shapiro / ColoradoAvalanche.com
Riding an eight-game point streak (7-1-0), the Colorado Avalanche turns its attention to the New Jersey Devils on Friday to conclude a three-game homestand. The Avs are 1-0-1 on the home stay, falling 5-4 in overtime to the Calgary Flames on Monday and defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 on Wednesday.
Mikko Rantanen scored two goals and Pavel Francouz made 32 saves to lead Colorado to a 3-1 win over the Flyers, becoming the first team in the Western Conference to reach 20 wins this season. Matt Calvert scored the other goal while six more Avalanche players earned an assist.
The Devils (9-16-5) are coming off a 2-0 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. MacKenzie Blackwood was in net for New Jersey and stopped 33 of the 35 shots he faced.
It is the first of two matchups between the Avs and Devils this year. Colorado won both meetings last season, including a 3-0 shutout in Denver on March 17.
Avalanche vs. New Jersey Devils
Pepsi Center | Denver, Colo.
COLORADO-NEW JERSEY CONNECTIONS
Before relocating to New Jersey, the Devils were the Colorado Rockies for six seasons from 1976-82 … New Jersey defenseman Will Butcher, a University of Denver product, was drafted by Colorado in 2013 (fifth round, 123rd overall)… Ian Cole and New Jersey forward Kyle Palmieri were teammates at Notre Dame in 2009-10.
The Avalanche won both matchups against New Jersey last season, including a 3-0 victory in their last meeting, on March 17 at Pepsi Center. Tyson Barrie scored two goals in the second period, Nathan MacKinnon recorded the third goal and Philipp Gruabeur stopped all 22 shots he faced. Colorado is 9-3-0 in its last 12 meetings with the Devils.
Since relocating to Denver in 1995, the Avalanche is 18-14-4 against the Devils. Their shared history is best known for the 2001 Stanley Cup Final, which the Avalanche won in seven games.
Philipp Grubauer (lower body) skated for the fourth straight day on Thursday. Bednar said the goaltender is “probable” to be in the lineup on Friday, but not necessarily as the starter.
Cale Makar (upper body) will not be available versus the Devils, but head coach Jared Bednar said the rookie defenseman could return on Monday when the Avalanche begins a two-game Central Division road trip at the St. Louis Blues… Erik Johnson (lower body) skated in red, non-contact jersey before practice on Thursday… Colin Wilson (lower body) is out indefinitely.
SCOUTING THE DEVILS
The Devils have lost six straight games, including one in a shootout. Since their last win, a 6-4 final over the Canadiens on Thanksgiving, New Jersey has scored nine goals in its last six contests.
Taylor Hall leads the team with 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) while second-year goalie Mackenzie Blackwood is 8-9-4 with a .902 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average.
(OPPOSING) PLAYER TO WATCH: Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall has four points (two goals, two assists) in the last four games. The 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy winner has had success against the Avalanche, recording 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 27 outings.
Since joining the Devils in 2017-18, Hall has recorded at least one point in all five meetings against the Avs, with seven total (two goals, five assists). For his career, he has 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in games against Colorado.
The Avalanche is just one of six teams with at least six players who have recorded 20 or more points this season.
With Wednesday night’s win, the Avs extended their point streak to eight games (7-0-1). It ties their season high which was set Oct. 3-19 (7-0-1).
Colorado has scored 114 goals this season, the second-most in the NHL behind Washington, which has played two more games.
Friday will be the first of two meetings between the Avalanche and Devils this year. The second and final will be in New Jersey on Jan. 4… The Avs are 9-1-2 in games against Eastern Conference opponents… Since Nov. 27, the start of the Avs eight-game point streak, Colorado leads the NHL in blocked shots with 133… Friday’s matchup is one of two “Friday the 13th” games for the Avalanche this season. Colorado has only played on a Friday the 13tth five previous times since moving to Denver and the club is 2-2-1 in these matchups.
- Avs look to stay atop West as Hall, Devils visit
by Field Level Media
With the New Jersey Devils off to a slow start and the season nearing the halfway mark, rumors have circulated that forward Taylor Hall could be dealt.
One of the teams mentioned as a possible destination for the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner as the league’s MVP is the Colorado Avalanche, and Friday’s matchup between the teams in Denver probably will heighten the speculation. But it’s understandable if Colorado ignores the noise and sticks with the players already on the roster.
After all, the Avalanche woke up Thursday morning sitting in first place in the Western Conference with an NHL-best plus-29 goal differential after a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers the previous night. They were in that lofty position despite the slew of injuries that have sidelined most of their top players for at least a few games. Now they’re starting to get players healthy again while surging in the standings.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, is expected to be in the lineup against the Devils, although he may serve as Pavel Francouz‘s backup. Defenseman Cale Makar (upper-body injury) is skating but will miss his third straight game on Friday night.
Colorado survived a strong game by the Flyers on Wednesday night without those two, largely because of Mikko Rantanen (two goals) and Francouz (32 saves). Rantanen has played well (three goals, five assists) in the six games since returning from an injury that cost him 16 games, and he is one reason the Avalanche are 7-0-1 in their past eight games.
Center Nazem Kadri was back in the lineup on Wednesday, giving Colorado coach Jared Bednar a rare game in which the top six forwards were available. He shuffled his top two lines, pairing Kadri with Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, and playing leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon between Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi.
“It’s good depth, really good depth,” Bednar said after the Wednesday game. “If we play the way we can, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games, but we’ve got to get a little more consistent than we’ve been the last two home games.”
The Devils arrive in Denver reeling, having gone 0-5-1 in their past six games, the latest being a 2-0 loss at Dallas on Tuesday night. The good news is they’re getting center and third-leading scorer Nico Hischier back from illness.
Hischier missed the past three games, but he practiced with the team on Thursday.
New Jersey’s struggles — only Detroit has fewer wins than the Devils’ nine — cost John Hynes his job as head coach. Interim head coach Alain Nasreddine is winless in four games so far, and getting the first victory in Colorado might be a lot to ask.
“The situation we’re in doesn’t help, but I’m a passionate guy,” Nasreddine said after the loss to the Stars. “I know it’s hard now, but I enjoy what I do every day, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The Devils will need their offense to show up against Colorado. The Avalanche lead the Western Conference with 114 goals, second in the league to Washington, and they have scored 33 goals in the past eight games.
With a full complement of forwards, that number could continue to rise against New Jersey, which has allowed 107 goals this season, third most in the NHL through Wednesday.
- Does the in-season coaching change really work in the NHL?
by Corey Masisak, The Athletic
The 2017-18 season was a unique time in NHL history. For the first time since the league expanded beyond six teams six decades prior, no coaches were fired during the campaign.
That brief period of serenity did not last. The NHL again is a league where the coaching carousel always feels like a five-game losing streak away from spinning again.
Teams have different reasons for changing coaches. In season, it’s almost always because the club is not meeting expectations and management thinks a new voice could propel the players to better performances. The Blues changed coaches in November 2018, and seven months later they were Stanley Cup champions.
How often does firing the coach during the season actually work? Everyone remembers the big success stories, but what about the moves that didn’t spur the team to a fairytale run?
The Athletic sifted through every in-season coaching change since the 2004-05 lockout ushered in the salary cap era. There have now been 63 changes in the past 15 seasons, with time for more movement this year.
When the Hurricanes promoted Rod Brind’Amour to head coach on May 8, 2018, he was the third of six new coaches in the league that offseason. Brind’Amour has only been in charge of the Hurricanes for 19 months, but he has more tenure than 17 of his peers. The two coaches hired before him during the 2018 offseason, Bill Peters and Jim Montgomery, were recently fired, adding up to 20 coaching changes in the past 20 months.
The past couple of weeks have revealed a disturbing development on the topic. The Flames let go of Peters on Nov. 29 after allegations that he racially and physically abused players surfaced from multiple players. A week earlier, the Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock for reasons related to on-ice performance, but hockey’s awakening spurred by Akim Aliu’s tweets has led to multiple accusations that Babcock mistreated players. Toronto president Brendan Shanahan said this week that Babcock’s coaching tactics were not “appropriate or acceptable.”
Then, on Tuesday, Dallas fired Montgomery due to “unprofessional conduct,” which general manager Jim Nill said had nothing to do with the four-point plan the NHL laid out Monday to help curb abusive behavior. The specifics of Montgomery’s firing have remained private. New Jersey’s John Hynes and San Jose’s Peter DeBoer, who on Wednesday became the fifth coach let go this season, were each fired for performance reasons.
In the simplest terms, changing coaches during the season works. Of the 58 changes in the past 14 seasons (2005-06 through last year), the team had a better points percentage after the move 46 times.
Teams that have made coaching changes during the salary cap era are 882-970-249 (.479 points percentage) with the old coach, and 1,301-1,108-343 (.535) afterward. It’s a difference of about nine points — collectively, the teams played at a 78.6-point pace before the move and 87.7 after.
Some teams have responded to the coaching change with aplomb. Four of the past 14 Stanley Cup champions have made an in-season change (Pittsburgh in 2009, Los Angeles in 2012, Pittsburgh again in 2016 and St. Louis in 2019).
Twenty-two of the 58 teams qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs, though only 13 of the 22 were not in a playoff position at the time of the change. Eleven teams climbed five places in the conference standings or more, while five teams dropped three or more spots.
Eleven teams finished lower in the conference standings than where they were on the day of the change. Two teams — the 2005-06 Kings and 2014-15 Maple Leafs — were in a playoff position, fired their coach and then failed to qualify.
Here is every team grouped by how many times they’ve made an in-season coaching change in the cap era:
Five times: Devils, Blues
Four: Canadiens, Flyers, Blue Jackets, Senators
Three: Islanders, Penguins, Kings, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs
Two: Thrashers/Jets, Capitals, Lightning, Hurricanes, Ducks, Sabres, Panthers, Oilers
One: Rangers, Wild, Bruins, Flames, Stars, Sharks
None: Red Wings, Avalanche, Coyotes, Canucks, Predators, Golden Knights
Below you’ll find each individual coaching change, broken up by season, since 2005-06. One note: The teams’ positions in the standings are based on conference and not adjusted for the various ways the NHL has doctored its playoff format. If a team finished with the sixth-most points in the conference and got the third seed, they are sixth for the purpose of this exercise.
Pittsburgh returned from the lockout with great expectations, in part because of a handful of talented additions, highlighted by the No. 1 pick in the draft and a marquee name at the top of the defense corps. Sounds pretty similar to the situation in New Jersey this season. The Penguins promoted Michel Therrien from the AHL and actually got worse before they got better — much better. They reached the playoffs in Sidney Crosby’s second year and the Stanley Cup in his third.
The Devils were the second team to change coaches after the lockout. Their impressive run with Lou Lamoriello in charge remains the sixth-best record (we’re not counting Lamoriello’s three-game stint the following year) after a coaching change in this era.
Ken Hitchcock’s name surfaces quite a bit in this discussion. He’s been fired midseason three times and been an in-season replacement three times. He’s also been part of two of the best turnarounds, on either end. When he replaced Davis Payne in St. Louis in November 2011, the Blues stormed from 13th place to second, the biggest improvement in the conference standings of any change. Then, when the Blues dismissed Hitchcock in February 2017, Mike Yeo went 22-8-2, which is the second-best record by points percentage for a team that made a switch.
Nine teams have made a change in the first 15 games, but only three of those teams rebounded to make the playoffs. Before the Blues’ run last season, Bruce Boudreau’s introduction in Washington became the biggest salvage job of the cap era.
The Capitals were last in the league on American Thanksgiving when Boudreau was hired and transformed into one of the most exciting teams of this era, clinching the Southeast Division title on the final day of the season. Before the remarkable stretch run, fueled by Alex Ovechkin’s 65-goal season, the Capitals were 10-6-4 in Boudreau’s first 20 games and reached the midpoint of the season in 14th place in the East. They became the first team to be in 14th place or lower in the conference at the halfway mark and still reach the postseason.
The Blackhawks made arguably the craziest — and, ultimately, the best — in-season coaching decision of the past 15 years. Firing the coach after four games is almost silly. It’s basically a confession that you should have done it in the offseason. Enter Joel Quenneville, who proceeded to help the Blackhawks become a modern dynasty — three championships and two conference finals in a seven-season span.
Tampa Bay’s brief stint with Barry Melrose in charge was calamitous, but the Lightning were actually slightly worse when Rick Tocchet took over. Amid all of the bizarre stories from that season, the Lightning went 5-18 in games that went past regulation. That’s pretty hard to do. Two other teams have lost 18 times in overtime/shootouts, but they also both won at least eight times. The 2013-14 Devils famously were 0-13 in shootouts, but still went 9-18 overall in games that went beyond regulation.
A strong contender for the most curious team to make a change is the 2009-10 Flyers. Philadelphia played worse in 57 games for Peter Laviolette (.535) than they did in their first 25 games with John Stevens (.540), but the Flyers actually improved from 10th in the Eastern Conference to seventh. Then they became the only team in the past 15 years to change coaches and lose in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Flyers were aided by big collapses from the Thrashers, Lightning and Islanders, who all crashed out of playoff contention. A very weak Eastern Conference also helped. They finished in seventh with 88 points, while seven teams in the West finished with 100-plus and three teams had more than 88 and didn’t qualify.
Jacques Lemaire, version 3.0 in New Jersey, was a wild ride. John MacLean, as a player, was an all-time great, but as a coach had the worst winning percentage since Bill MacMillan, the original coach after moving from Colorado in 1982. It didn’t work with Lemaire at first, either.
The Devils lost seven of his first eight games and slumped to 10-29-2. They weren’t just in last place in the NHL; the Devils were 10 points out of second-to-last, and 27 points back of eighth place in the East. New Jersey suddenly ripped off a 23-3-2 run and woke up on March 16 just six points out of a playoff spot.
Then they ran out of gas, losing five of the next six games and scoring one goal or less in each of the losses. They came up short, but it was one of the most remarkable two-month runs in NHL history, particularly for a team that had been left for dead.
Eight coaching changes reflected the most in any season of this era and, to quote Stefon from Saturday Night Live, this club has everything. Hitchcock helped the Blues make the biggest jump in the standings. Dale Hunter brought structure and defensively responsibility to Washington (or he made the run-and-gun Capitals less fun) and won 37 games and lost 37, including the postseason, before returning to London.
The Canadiens and Maple Leafs tanked after the change. And the Kings helped usher analytics into the mainstream by being the first eighth seed to shred the league in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, grabbing four 3-0 series leads. A deeper investigation into why or how an eighth seed could do that showed they were actually one of the best teams in the league in this thing called Corsi …
Jon Cooper was the rising star in the coaching world when the Lightning promoted him from the AHL, and he’s now become one of the best coaches in the NHL. It didn’t happen immediately, though tasked with transitioning away from Guy Boucher’s, uh, unique system in a lockout-shortened season with a condensed schedule wouldn’t be easy for anyone.
Berube’s first chance as an in-season addition is a good example of a team that probably would have turned its season around without a coaching change. The Flyers reached the second round of the playoffs in 2012, then just missed the postseason in the lockout-shortened season the following year. They won six of seven to finish the 48-game season, and were six points out of eighth. Could they have made it in an 82-game season? And if they did, would they have fired Peter Laviolette after an 0-3 start the following year?
Lamoriello’s touch when it came to in-season coaching changes was trending in the same direction as the franchise’s draft record at this point. The Devils picked up their play, but only to about an 84-point pace over the course of a season. It also led to a third consecutive season without a trip to the playoffs, plus the arrival of Ray Shero and the start of a much-needed rebuilding project.
Fun fact: A few days after Mike Johnston was fired, an article appeared with this phrase in the title — “Sidney Crosby is a coach killer.” Crosby proceeded to win the Conn Smythe trophy the next two times it was awarded and added a World Cup MVP in between. Sometimes it really is the coach, and in this case, a style of play that just didn’t fit the roster.
There have been 10 teams that changed their coach and played .650 hockey or better in the aftermath. Four of them came during the 2016-17 season, and all four might have made the postseason had the Islanders put Doug Weight in charge a little sooner.
Bruce Cassidy, in his first NHL head coaching gig in Washington, was fired in his second season. He was 8-18-1-1 at the time (2002), then returned 15 years later with Boston and went 18-8-1 to close his first season with the Bruins.
That was a wild twist in results 15 years in the making for Cassidy. Mike Yeo dealt with his own pendulum swing in a much more condensed timeline. He orchestrated one of the best post-coaching change performances of the past 15 years, then missed the playoffs the following year by one point, then was doomed by a slow start the year after (which ended with his former players winning the Stanley Cup).
Five of the seven new coaches last year ended up being caretakers, essentially. Jeremy Colliton and Craig Berube were the only two that kept their jobs into this season. The Blues had a good reason to keep Berube around. The Blackhawks are now 42-42-15 under Colliton and could be veering toward another high draft pick.
While the Blues will be the team everyone remembers from this group, it’s actually one of the least successful of the past 15 years. Six teams made a change and didn’t reach the postseason. Four teams didn’t improve in the standings (including one that dropped).
Toronto, Calgary and San Jose were all expected to be among the best teams in the league this season. Peters appeared to be on the hot seat before his previous transgressions became public knowledge.
All three of those teams could join the group of clubs that were out of a playoff spot before the change and rebounded to make the tournament. The Sharks are the most vulnerable because of their dreadful goaltending and their inability to outscore teams like they did a year ago.