By Jeff O'Connor
The New Jersey Devils signed Michael Ryder when free agency started, due to a need of pure goal scorers. While he didn’t have any goals in Thursday night’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders at the Prudential Center, he showed that he has many more tools besides just an ability to shoot the puck.
Let’s start with that ability to shoot the puck, though. In fact, let’s examine his first shot as a Devil. After quickly falling behind 1-0 in the first period, the Devils were attacking a minute later. The puck came to Ryder’s stick on the top of the left circle and he ripped a wrist shot. While he didn’t score, Isles goaltender Kevin Poulin had to flex his left shoulder just to get his body on it. If he doesn’t shrug his shoulder, it probably hits right under the crossbar in the back of the net.
This is what the Devils lack. With Ilya Kovalchuk gone, there are very few guys on the squad who consistently rip the puck in challenging spots for goaltenders to make a save. This is exactly what GM Lou Lamoriello and Devils fans thought they were getting more than anything else; a sniper with a wicked wrister. If he gets the puck on his stick between the circles and has a sliver of space, great things can happen.
Ryder was even more impressive on the power play last night and not because of his shooting (one shot on the PP). His vision and passing were masterful. That was on full display for the Devils third goal. Going up the right wing boards on his backhand, with a defender right on him, Ryder calmly sifted a backhand pass to a cutting Eric Gelinas who also made a backhanded flip to Jon Merrill, as he buried his shot from the top of the slot. There was another play during the second period where Ryder circled behind the Isles net, streamed up the left circle and made a great cross-slot saucer pass, which would have been a tremendous scoring chance if it was handled cleanly.
“He looked good today,” said goaltender Martin Brodeur. “He’s kind of crafty. He’s a goal scorer but he proved today that he can pass the puck too. He made some really nice saucer passes.”
In a game where the defense was exposed in their own zone, the goaltending wasn’t sharp and the goals came solely off point shots, Ryder was a bright spot. One other thing Brodeur noted that was noticeable throughout the game is that Ryder is hard on the puck. He doesn’t get pushed off the puck easily and he’s not afraid to get in the corners and mix it up, which is an attribute I’m not sure many Devils fans knew he had. Also throw in the fact that Ryder played a solid all-around game, even though he was constantly being shuffled with different linemates due to the early absence of Ryane Clowe.
“Michael was one our brighter spots,” said head coach Pete DeBoer. “I thought he had a good game. He made some plays and created some offense. It was good to get him in his first game. I like some of the things he did.”
So did a lot of Devils fans. There is still a long way to go but it looks like Lamoriello knocked this one out of the park.
Ryder said he’s still getting used to DeBoer’s system and that he got caught “thinking too much”, but he felt better as the game went along.
“The guys here are great. They make me feel comfortable,” said Ryder. “When you come to a new team, it’s what you want to look forward to. They welcomed me in and now it’s just step by step and day by day “to get better.”
“We always played against him. He’s always a threat so it’s kind of nice to have him on our side,” said Brodeur.