Not even a strong finish to the 2010-11 season could prevent the Devils from missing out on the postseason for the first time since 1996. A slow beginning to the campaign was ultimately to blame and New Jersey hopes to get off to a better start tonight in the first of three straight home games to open the schedule.
The Devils won just 10 of their first 41 games a season ago and it led to the firing of head coach John MacLean. He was replaced on an interim basis by Jacques Lemaire, who helped the club put together a 28-10-3 run to end the season after coming out of retirement, but Lemaire has once again hung up his clipboard.
General manager Lou Lamoriello opted to bring in Peter DeBoer as the club's new head coach and that may have been the Devils' biggest move given their tough salary cap situation.
It is fair to say highly-paid forward Ilya Kovalchuk disappointed a bit last year with 31 goals and 60 points in 81 games. New Jersey needs more from its $100 million winger, but will also have a healthy Zach Parise, who like Kovalchuk is a left winger.
Parise appeared in just 13 games last year due to a knee injury and will open the season as the ninth captain in club history.
"When you look at Zach as a coach, this guy plays the right way, he prepares the right way," DeBoer told New Jersey's website. "He handles himself the right way. There's really not a lot of flaws in his character or in how he plays the game. I've always been a believer that your best players, if you're going to win, have to be your most honest players and people. I think he fits that category."
New Jersey is also looking for a boost at the blue line as it opted to keep 2011 fourth overall pick Adam Larsson on the roster, but the Devils won't have center Travis Zajac for the early part of the season thanks to surgery in mid- August to repair a torn Achilles tendon that will keep him out anywhere between three and six months.
If scoring is an issue, 39-year-old Martin Brodeur may have to post another high-caliber season in net. Brodeur could be in his final campaign after going 23-26-3 last year with a 2.45 goals-against average as he will be 40 in May and is in the last year of his contract.
Brodeur will make the 80th start of his career versus the Flyers, who opened their season with a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday. Philadelphia, which made a number of roster changes this year including the trading of captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, got contributions from a number of new faces in Jakub Voracek, Jaromir Jagr and Ilya Bryzgalov.
Voracek snapped a 16-game goalless drought when he logged the game-winning goal with just under three ticks left in the first period and Bryzgalov made 22 saves in his Philadelphia debut.
"We feel like we've been playing a long time together," Bryzgalov said when asked if the Flyers need to forge a new identity with an altered roster. "We have a very, very good group of guys. We're very friendly. It's like one big family, you know. In a few weeks I hope it's going to be very, very good."
"I knew that if I didn't get injured I would get it this season," Jagr said with a laugh about the point. "But I'm glad we won. We played the Stanley Cup champions. A lot of people probably ... were wondering how we would play because we have so many new guys."
The Flyers, who suffered a four-game sweep at the hands of Boston in last year's Eastern semifinals, open their home schedule on Wednesday versus the Canucks.
Though these two clubs split six meetings last year, the Flyers have won nine of the past 13 matchups overall.