Faced with some 14 days at home over the Christmas period, only a limited number of PlayStation options, and only so much booze and food that can be ingested, my daughter and I sought to stare down the winter blues with a surfeit of ice hockey. From the 8-1 thrashing of Dundee on the 23rd December to the 5-2 mauling of Panthers on 7th Jan, we attended all seven Devils games, including the away fixtures at Coventry, Milton Keynes and Guildford.
During this time we dropped only one point, the overtime defeat at Guildford which ended the 13 game winning streak. This sequence of games provided a microcosm of the Devils’ game plans, styles, players and possible issues. Firstly, when they hit their groove, they are unstoppable, as the Dundee and Milton Keynes games evidenced. But that can’t be relied upon, and both Coventry games illustrated that they can hustle out by the boards, to dig the puck out, harry and scratch to get a win. Scoring has been evenly distributed through the lines, which was the mark of the team last season. They don’t favour one high scoring line, but rather two to three effective ones. When these click, then it is a relentless ploy, as the opposition cannot match their best defence or grinder line against just one line. But if these lines stutter, as was the case early in the season, there is not a go-to state to salvage games.
The star of the period for me has been the PK unit. This was as fragile as Donald Trump’s ego at the start of the season, but has been steadily improving. In the Milton Keynes game it killed a 5 minute penalty and similarly a 2+2 against Panthers. These penalties are pivotal, they provide a route for momentum to be gained by the opposition. By killing the penalties the moment is missed, which is as good as another goal for deflating their belief.
In terms of players, Bryce Reddick has settled in defence alongside the unflappable Tyson Strachan. He is perhaps the Devils most improved player, his costly turnovers that had us groaning early on have been eliminated, and he hits like a player twice his size, is quick on transition and earnest in defence. Benti has been consistent across much of the season, and the Mayor of Cardiff, Joey Martin has raised his form from its already high status, looking imperious as he works on the first and fourth line. Fournier is probably in his best form for the Devils, scoring and assisting from the point and skating regally. Matt Pope was another player who had doubters at the start of the season who has improved of late, scoring a goal that left the Panthers dumbfounded on Sunday. Asselin, who has been a shadow of the classy player of last year has also notched some points. Whatever the issue was (injury or rumour of discontent), there are signs it has settled, although he is still not back to his previous imperious quality.
On the downside Paris has been a disappointment. He looks vulnerable whenever he is on the ice, frequently surrendering the puck with sloppy control, and largely ineffectual in his checks. His place in defence has meant Mark Louis has been working a shift on the fourth line, but while willing, has looked somewhat lost as a forward. With Paris picking up an injury at Milton Keynes, Louis was back in D last weekend and immediately looked happier. Crowder returned from injury on Sunday, and a question mark remains over his consistency.
The Devils forum has been subject to some debate about the Devils style. For some it is not physical enough. Despite being 7 points clear at the top of the league, there are complaints it is not entertaining enough. I’ll address this in another post. But a dominant Christmas period is surely an adequate response.