- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Listen to Claude Julien, the club's first-year coach, and it sounds as if this year's Devils are trying to revert to the Devils of old. "Defensive hockey doesn't have to be boring hockey," says Julien, who coached the Canadiens from January 2003 to January 2006 and replaces New Jersey G.M. Lou Lamoriello behind the bench. "I enjoy having a team that is hard to play against."
In the prelockout, clutch-grab-and-trap era, the Devils used a defense-first system long on discipline and short on risk, a strategy that led to three Stanley Cups. Last year New Jersey opened up its attack and scored 20 more goals than in the previous season. A return to tactical austerity may not play well with some of the gifted forwards who have enlivened the team's play, such as right wing Brian Gionta, who set a franchise record with 48 goals in 2005--06, and linemate Scott Gomez, who had career highs of 33 goals and 84 points, but the approach is familiar. "It'll be easier for us to get used to a [defense-oriented] coach," says goaltender Martin Brodeur. "We know what's expected of us."
The Devils shouldn't have any problems meeting at least one expectation: reaching the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
LAST SEASON 45-26-11, fifth in East; lost in first round to Buffalo
Searching for a sign of good things to come? Check out center Peter Forsberg's locker, where you'll find only one pair of skates. Last season, when the Flyers were beset with injuries, he went through 36 pairs trying to find one that felt comfortable on his chronically ailing feet. Forsberg averaged only 57 games played in his last nine seasons because of a variety of injuries, but after off-season surgery to repair a congenital deformity in his right ankle, he pronounced himself fit. When healthy, Forsberg is the best all-around player in the game: creative, fast, rugged and smart. And his impact on teammates is immense. Playing alongside Forsberg last season, left wing Simon Gagne had 39 goals and 67 points in 51 games; without him, Gagne had eight goals and 12 points in 21 games.
By signing forwards Kyle Calder (26 goals, 33 assists for the Blackhawks) and Geoff Sanderson (25 goals, 21 assists for the Coyotes), the Flyers added depth and talent to an offense that should top last season's 263 goals (fifth most in the East). But Philadelphia is undermined by a slow defense. Those feet--not Forsberg's--will be the club's Achilles' heel.