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Devils ready to drop the puck on 2011-12

Friday, 10.7.2011 / 4:16 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Devils ready to drop the puck on 2011-12
Brodeur and Devils hoping for an opening night celebration. (Getty/NHL Images)
Six months between games is far too long for a team that believes it has the pieces to contend right now.

Saturday finally brings a chance for a fresh start. After last season’s ups and downs and a summer of change, the Devils are set to open the 2011-12 campaign against the Flyers at Prudential Center.

“Everyone wants a good start, obviously, but our destiny isn’t going to be decided on opening night,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “It’s a process. I’m more concerned right now about how we play. It’d be nice to win, but if our game is in the right place and we’re doing the right things, then I’m comfortable that the wins will come.”

DeBoer was named on July 19 as Jacques Lemaire’s successor. His squad wants to avoid the slow start that resulted in a 9-25-2 mark to open last season.

“I don’t think that’s the sole motivator, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that when you’ve got proud athletes like the ones here and guys that have won – won consistently and won championships – to be sitting on the sidelines [in the playoffs] is definitely not easy to take,” he said. “You can see that didn’t sit well with them and I’m sure that’s a motivator.”

New captain Zach Parise watched much of 2010-11 from the sidelines following knee surgery. Primed for a big bounceback year, he doesn’t see last year’s troubles weighing on anyone’s mind.

“I don’t think there’s even any thoughts,” Parise said. “It’s not something that the coaches brought up; it’s not something that the players talk about. No one’s in here saying, ‘We gotta start better than we did last year.' No one’s thinking like that. I think everyone’s moved on. That’s not really in our minds.”

Among this year's new faces are Adam Larsson, the fourth-overall pick of this year's Draft, who impressed in exhibition. Adam Henrique and Brad Mills made the team out of camp. Former Devils Petr Sykora and Cam Janssen signed as free agents, as did Eric Boulton.

A win would be a great way to kick things off. The Devils took a 2-0 lead in the first eight minutes of last year’s home opener before falling to Dallas in overtime.

“We’re playing a really good team [Saturday] night, but I think we feel good,” Parise said. We’re ready to start. We’ve practiced enough, we’re ready to start playing. Of course, ideally, we’d like to come out and feel good about ourselves, feel good about our game and get a nice win.”

A season-opening three-game homestand (Phi., Car., L.A.) could represent a great opportunity – if everything goes according to plan.

"I’ll let you know after the first week of the season," DeBoer said. "It can be a good thing if we can get off to a good start and establish a real home presence. The flip side is you hear coaches talk about wanting to go on the road early in the season to do team building. I don’t think there is a right answer. We’ve had a real good training camp; I think the guys are in a good state of mind. I think they’re really grasping on to the identity we’re trying to build here and I expect to see that in the games."

It will be the second game for the Flyers, who topped the Bruins, 2-1, on the night the Stanley Cup banner was raised to the rafters in Boston. Philadelphia bolstered its roster in the offseason with the additions of Jaromir Jagr and Ilya Bryzgalov.

“They had an impressive game,” DeBoer said. “I thought they looked really good. Boston controlled the first eight or 10 minutes, but after that I thought Philly settled in and really played a good hockey game, especially a road game in a tough environment. They’re a very good team. Bryzgalov is one of the best in the League and he gives them a chance, as we saw in the exhibition games, to win every night. They’re a good hockey team.”

Martin Brodeur is set to start his 17th consecutive home opener with the same team, extending his own NHL record. After posting the first sub-.500 record of his career, Brodeur hopes last year serves as a learning experience for returning players.

“If you were a part of this team, I think you definitely have to learn from what we didn’t do right and what we did right at the end to start off the season,” Brodeur said. “It caught us surprised, we expected to do really well and it didn’t happen. I think it gets everybody more aware of what could happen if you don’t go out and have a strong start. I’m sure guys, it’s in their head. I know it’s in my head to try and get off to a better start than we did last year.”

Despite a 28-10-3 record in the second half, the Devils’ streak of consecutive playoff appearances stalled at 13. Now the goal is to get back.

“You don’t want to live that twice in a row,” Brodeur said. “There’s organizations that spent years and years without making [the playoffs]. You don’t want to get in that habit to be a thing that’s acceptable. We’re a winning organization and we want to keep it that way.”

And that’s why every Devil will be anxious to drop the puck Saturday night.

“We’re excited but I think it’s kind of a careful excitement,” Brodeur said. “You kind of just want to take it step by step. It’s less casual than maybe it was in other years just because of what happened last year. We had a lot of practice time, I think now the system is in place and we’ll see how that’s going to work. If there’s an adjustment to be made, we’ll have to do them. But it’s a really good challenge for us to play one of the top teams right from the get-go.”

Brodeur gets new chest protector
It was out with the old, in with the new for Brodeur at practice this week. After taking a hard shot in the left shoulder from Philadelphia's Jakub Voracek in the preseason finale, Brodeur has upgraded his chest protector for the first time in 11 years.

"I’m like, 'All right, that’s enough. I have to find something.'" Brodeur said. He's wearing a model that previously belonged to Nashville's Pekka Rinne. It's brand-new, though Brodeur assumed Rinne returned it and went with another model. He had to remove Rinne's name, which had been stitched in on the back.

"Probably not enough protection for him, but it’s good enough for me," Brodeur said.

Finding a new model that offers comfort and flexibility hasn't been an easy process. Brodeur tweaked the new pads, removing their elbow protection. Instead, he wears a broken-in pair of elbow pads that once belonged to former Devil Bill Guerin.

"I was getting companies to make the exact one like my old one – but newer – and they would never get it right," Brodeur said. "It’s tough to redo it. So I went really different and it feels good. But I can’t use their elbows [pads]. I have to use my old elbow pads. I tried and got hit in the elbow. These are Billy Guerin’s, so these are old."

Brodeur was hurt last year in Chicago when a Patrick Kane shot caught him in an unprotected area on his right elbow. New pads were stitched on, but they added more weight. He estimated that the new chest protector is as much as a pound lighter than his old one.

"I needed something I was really comfortable with. When that one came in, it was like, ‘Wow, this one’s not bad,'" he said.

Today’s lines
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Petr Sykora
Ilya Kovalchuk - Dainius Zubrus - Nick Palmieri
Adam Henrique - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Brad Mills - Mattias Tedenby
Rod Pelley - Cam Janssen

Henrik Tallinder - Mark Fayne
Andy Greene - Adam Larsson
Bryce Salvador - Anton Volchenkov
Mark Fraser - Anton Stralman (unsigned)