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N.J. Devils at Montreal Canadiens preview: Kovy and crew are playoff 'villains'

brodeurMartin011012_optBY SAM HITCHCOCK
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY

The Devils keep cruising, and yet, no one seems to want to acknowledge their ascension. Martin Brodeur is once again playing like one of the best goalies in the NHL, making critical saves every game. Still, no national hockey writers seem to give his recent play a second thought. Kovalchuk has raised his game so much that one could argue he ranks among the top five forwards in the game right now. Nevertheless, he is disregarded the same way the Devils are routinely dismissed by the national hockey media as viable contenders in their conference.

Here are a few juicy statistics: Kovy (thank you reader for the spelling tip-off!) ranks in the top five in the NHL in points per game and goals created per game; is eighth in goals per game; and fifteenth in assists per game! How many other players in the NHL are in the top 15 in all four of those categories? One. And that player is the leading Hart Trophy candidate, Evgeni Malkin.

But the Devils’ rise has been a team effort, allowing just twelve goals in their past six games despite losing their best defenseman (Larsson) to injury. Still, the Devils’ treatment by the national media seems eerily similar to the disrespect the Giants faced this year. I know, different team, different sports, certainly different personalities and code of conduct toward the media, but the Devils seem to be flying so low under the radar it is almost comical.

Their last two wins, against the Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Ducks, capture this 2011-12 team perfectly. Neither win was pretty, they probably relied a little bit too heavily on Marty, they received outstanding production from their special teams, there were moments in both games where fans were likely convinced they would lose, and their marquee guys stepped up and made the crucial plays needed to win both games.

The Devils will not win 22 straight home games this season, nor will they lead any afternoon broadcasts on NBC, but the team that was deemed to have no “all-stars” has some serious dark horse potential to emerge as the Eastern Conference representative in the Stanley Cup finals.

DeBoer and the coaching staff seem to be beloved by the players, and one of the reasons they perhaps seem so unified is that literally not one person who writes about the NHL seems to consider them a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Playing the “us against the world” card can be a very powerful motivator. While the Devils may be less vocal than the Giants were about the extreme lack of media attention, one might surmise that this is partially fueling their surge in the standings.

While this would appear to be quite the quagmire, I do have some theories as to why everyone in the national media loves to diss the Devils and why Kovalchuk can’t get any love.



 

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