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Simpler game paying off for Devils

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Henrik Tallinder

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The Devils have been playing better hockey, but Henrik Tallinder thinks it’s too soon to call it a turnaround.

With wins in three of their last four and four straight victories on home ice, though, the team has used excellent goaltending from Johan Hedberg and some timely plays to get on its first roll of 2010-11.

The Devils (8-14-2) face another test tonight against visiting Montreal (15-8-2).

“We’re trying to get it shift by shift,” Tallinder said. “I don’t know if it’s a turnaround yet. I think it comes down to, you realize how New Jersey plays. It’s a lot of new faces, a lot of injuries and stuff. Guys have to learn, especially for me, too. A lot of the new guys have to learn the New Jersey style and how we play it.”

Even taking things one shift at a time, winning is much better than the alternative.

“Way better,” Tallinder said. “You build confidence with wins. Even when you play pretty good hockey and still lose, it’s no confidence boost. It’s wins. That’s all it is. “

Tallinder and Hedberg were just two of the new additions the Devils brought in over the summer. Couple that roster shuffle with injuries to core players like Martin Brodeur, Zach Parise and Bryce Salvador, and the Devils have had to work through some serious lineup churn.

So they went back to basics and simplified their game. And it's worked.

“We’ve been really solid in our own end the last couple of games, the last four games,” Tallinder said. “I think that’s the key, because we haven’t been able to score. We’ve tightened  up defensively first, and that’s where you have to start. Hopefully the offense will come by itself, but you have to start somewhere, and we started with defense. That’s what we have to keep doing.”

As Tallinder sees it, the Devils' style is: “Very strict defensively. A defenseman is going to be a defenseman.”

With the talent-laden roster they still have – Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott to name only a few – Tallinder feels the team might have been guilty of thinking they’d get by on skill alone.

“We maybe thought that we were a great team on paper and it doesn’t work like that,” he said. “Maybe we were overdoing things instead of keeping it simple.”

The Devils couldn't have asked for more from Hedberg, who has excelled in the absence of Martin Brodeur (bruised right elbow). He’s stopped 113 of 117 shots and denied six of seven attempts to capture consecutive shootout wins. His shutout streak of 108:01 spanned three appearances from the third period at Toronto on Nov. 18 to the third period against Calgary on Nov. 24. In between, he blanked the Capitals, 5-0.

“He’s been awesome, he’s been really good,” Tallinder said. “It’s really good when you have that, but overall as a team we’ve been able to help the goalie a little bit better. Obviously when he plays as great as he has it’s a good feeling to have him back there.”

Head coach John MacLean echoed Tallinder’s praise of Hedberg: “I’m just glad that his work ethic is showing up. He seems very comfortable, very square to the puck right now. He’s playing big in the net, he’s challenging (shooters). I’ve known that he’s always worked hard and been a good goalie. We’re happy that he’s risen to the occasion for the team here. It’s a credit to the hard work that he does put in in practice and in taking care of himself.”

But the Devils’ improved performance has been a total team effort.

“We’ve been playing a better game overall,” MacLean said. “Our whole game’s been better overall. I can’t stress enough that we’ve been a little more desperate as far as, somebody makes a mistake and we’re covering up for him. It’s been a collective group effort that we need night in, night out. That’s something that I think we’re starting to get.”

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