Why does every NHL writer in the national media discount the devils' chances in the playoffs?
My hunch is it goes back to Jacques Lemaire’s days of coaching the team, when he enforced the much publicly maligned “neutral zone trap.” Quick refresher: the neutral zone trap is when a team attempts to force turnovers by its opponents in the neutral zone by sending one forechecker in the offensive zone and clogging the space between the blue lines.
Yes, the Devils enforced this strategy a decade ago, and it brought them tremendous success. Hockey elitists claimed it ruined the ebb and flow of the game, and when NHL ratings went down before the lockout, the Devils received the brunt of the blame.
After the NHL lockout, rule changes were made to eliminate this style of play from the NHL. Keep in mind, the Devils instituted this in the Lemaire regime over a decade ago (and as Larry Robinson has noted, the neutral zone trap has existed since the 1970’s).
Yet, when listening to the broadcast from Steve Cangialosi and Chico Resch during the Devils’ victory over Buffalo, Chico recounted hearing the Sabres’ announcers during their pregame talk saying that the Devils still ran a neutral zone trap.
This suggests that, even though the team’s style of play could not be more different than in the Lemaire days, hockey personnel around the league still stereotype the Devils. It follows them like their Scarlet Letter. For a team that ranks 14th in NHL scoring and has the most aggressive penalty kill in the league, one hopes that members of the media who follow and love the game will start to appreciate the Devils for being a hard-working and exciting hockey club.