NEWARK, N.J. – The Peter DeBoer era with the New Jersey Devils is officially only three practices old. But so far, the returning Devils like what they see in their new coach.
“Obviously, it’s still pretty early, but we all like the type of style that he wants us to play,” said veteran defenceman Andy Greene, who re-signed with the Devils after testing the free-agent market. “It’s fast paced and up tempo, and that’s a style I really like. It encourages us to play freer and that’s a plus.”
For the first time since 1996, the Devils, who have won three Stanley Cup titles since 1995, did not make the post-season last year.
DeBoer is here to restore order.
“It’s only been a couple of days, but so far, I like it,” second-year forward Jacob Josefson said. “I like the high-tempo practices. I like the fast pace. It makes you feel like you’ve been on the ice for a long time, but you really haven’t. Obviously, he has a gameplan that he believes in and it’s up to us players to get into it.”
Josefson likes DeBoer’s style, because it encourages more open ice skating, something that the 20-year-old Swedish player feels is his strength.
“There’s a lot of skating and skating is a big part of my game,” said Josefson, the Devils’ first-round draft selection in 2009 who had three goals and seven assists in 28 games last season. “I really like it. It’s been good, even this early, with the skating and conditioning. He runs good practices.”
Greene likes the way DeBoer is utilizing the full 40-man contingency in the early stages of training camp, breaking each day up into different sessions.
“He wants you to be involved right away and that’s a good sign,” said Greene, who had four goals and 19 assists last season. “The attitude is good. The intensity is good.”
That’s a good sign. Because starting the way they started last season isn’t going to sit well with DeBoer or upper management.
Under first-year coach and former player, John MacLean, the Devils stumbled to a 9-22-2 mark. Team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello seemed to give MacLean, at one time the all-time leading scorer in franchise history, a longer leash than usual. But by December, he had no choice but to make a change. MacLean was fired, and was replaced by Jacques Lemaire, who led the Devils to their first Stanley Cup in 1995.
The team played well for Lemaire, winning 28-of-48 games down the stretch. But the late charge couldn’t stop the Devils from missing the playoffs.
After some thought, Lemaire ultimately decided to retire once again, paving the way for DeBoer, who was previously the coach of the Florida Panthers from 2008-2011. DeBoer led the Panthers to a 30-40-12 record and was dismissed at the end of the season.
“We all know how the first half of the season went last year,” Greene said. “We’ve put it all behind us and we’re starting new. It’s a fresh new year with a new coach. I know we’re all motivated and hungry. The playoffs are a long way away.
“But, we’re determined to get back there.”
Greene said that he encourages DeBoer’s positive energy and personality.
“You can see the intensity from the first day,” Greene said. “You know what he wants and he demands the energy. I think it’s a good way to be. Of course, winning helps and makes things easier. We know we have to win this year.”
But that’s a tough task. The Devils are tenants in a difficult Atlantic Division, where the Flyers made wholesale changes, and the Penguins expect to be healthier. Both teams finished with 106 points last season, and the Rangers also made the post-season out of that division last year, with 93 points.
The Devils, thanks to the slow start, finished with just 81.
“Things are definitely looking up this year,” Josefson said.
The Devils spent most of Tuesday’s practice sessions working on penalty killing and their power play attack. The Devils’ lack of prowess in the power play was one of the main reasons for their horrendous start.
“Today was totally dedicated to special teams,” DeBoer said. “It was really our third practice day of camp. We did go at it early. That was the plan coming out of our coaching meetings this summer. It’s obviously an area that we red-flagged as something we want to improve at and we wanted to spend some time on it early.”
Veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur, who missed Monday’s intrasquad scrimmage with some hamstring soreness, returned to practice Tuesday.
However, Brodeur skated with the minor leaguers from the American Hockey League instead of the main club. Brodeur will not play when the Devils begin their pre-season schedule Wednesday night against the New York Rangers in Albany, N.Y.