Devils coach Brent Sutter said today he has not yet decided which of his goaltenders will start when the team plays next on Thursday night against Florida at Prudential Center. Scott Clemmensen has started the last two games after Kevin Weekes started four of the first five after Martin Brodeur was injured.
Ask Sutter about how rookie defenseman Anssi Salmela is playing and the Devils coach's initial reaction is to laugh. That might be to cover up for the hair loss Salmela is causing Sutter with his sometimes risky play in the defensive zone.
"Sammy is quite a guy in more ways than one," Sutter said laughing. "He's certainly very intriguing. He's got that skill level to his game that you like to see and he's good on our power play. He's one of those guys who doesn't get too rattled too much. But you do have gobs of your hair fall out every now and then in a game."
Sutter likes a lot of what Salmela does, but would prefer him to make the simpler, less-risky play more often.
"He's certainly very intriguing in a lot of ways what he brings," Sutter said. "He brings things to the table and he does some things and you're just like, 'Oh my God, I can't believe he just did that --or just tried that is the best way (to put it). I give him credit. He tries it. He's just got to continue to work on his game and at times I'd like to see him take a little safer approach. Yet, he tries things that a lot of players wouldn't try and 80 percent of the time it works. It's the other 20 that you're sitting there going, 'Oh my God!'
"But, you know what? I love the kid. He does make you chuckle. He does make things certainly interesting behind the bench sometimes."
Sutter said he was pleased with how defenseman Sheldon Brookbank played at right wing in Saturday's 6-5 shootout win over Washington.
"Brookie played well there," Sutter said. "He gave us what we needed there. It's not an easy thing to do: play defense and be called upon to be a forward. He did a really good job, exactly what I was looking for."
What was that?
"His tenacity. He's a big guy. You know he's going to compete and play hard and a couple of times he got caught down low in our zone and responded well because he's a defenseman and he knows how to play it down low. I thought he did a real good job. He gave us some quality minutes."
Sutter wouldn't commit to using Brookbank there again when the team plays next on Thursday night.
"There's a possibility," Sutter said. We'll see how the next few days go. We'll make that decision come Thursday."
Rookie forwards Petr Vrana and Nicklas Bergfors have also had some trouble in the defensive zone, which was one of the reasons why Sutter chose to use Brookbank at right wing and sit Vrana on Saturday.
"It's an ongoing project with all young kids," Sutter said. "Some of of them are taught it at different levels. Some kids it depends what kind of coaching they had as they come through with the club teams they played for and some of these guys they can do things in the American League that they can't do here. It's a big step to go from junior to the National Hockey League and it's a big step to go from junior to the American League or college.Some can handle it from that level to this level, but some need to go through the steps. There's still things they have to learn in them.
"Like I told them, I want them to play well without the puck. I want them to be solid defensively and in the offensive zone they can try things, they can do things, but they can't do it at the risk of allowing odd-man rushes to happen against us by making high-risk plays. That's what I want from those kids.
Sutter said he liked what he saw from Bergfors in the back-to-back games against the Capitals.
"I thought (Saturday), that was one of Bergie's better games," Sutter said. "I thought he got better in Washington and the other night he was better again. Because we need to be able to get some quality minutes out of that line. It's important for the other guys, the amount of minutes they play...The good thing about it is they're willing to learn. They want to learn how to do it the right way and that's certainly a start."
Vrana had been centering the fourth line with Mike Rupp at left wing and Bergfors at right wing, but Sutter moved Rupp to center on Saturday because he felt Rupp does a better job with defensive zone coverage down low than Vrana (the center has more down-low responsibilities than a wing in the defensive zone).
The fourth line had a couple of extended stretches in Friday's game in Washington in which it couldn't get the puck out of the defensive zone.
"Bergie had a pretty good game in Washington," Sutter said. "With Brookie playing the right side, Bergie can play the left side and Ruppy can play center, which I wanted to have him in the middle. I just think he's better down low than the two kids. And with Brookie there, he can adjust to that. If Brookie ends up being the low guy, Ruppy can adjust to playing his position in our own zone."
One of the reasons for today's later practice was the team function tonight, but Sutter said he also wanted to give the team some extra rest by having Sunday off and no morning practice today.
"We thought giving the guys an extra half day would be good for them, spend a little extra time at home," Sutter said.