At the moment there is a plenty of games to be played in regular season but at the same time we all have seen enough hockey to sum up the observations and analyze the situation around the team. I speak about New Jersey Devils of course.
Mistake in choosing the head coach and loosing too much time to correct it was the main problem of the last season. In fact it wasn’t resolved even with calling back good-old Jacques Lemaire who put great effort in the team despite missing playoffs in final. Devils just get some more time to make a right decision. This time team management was making the choice more carefully what took a lot of time and not so long before the start of training camp we got Peter DeBoer as head coach. At that point he looked like a man you don’t know what to expect from. As for now DeBoer achieved at least two major feats. First, Devils are fighting to keep the place in the top eight instead of running to cut the trail in desperation. Second, there were no unexplainable healthy scratch among the core players this season. He also didn’t start to transform Devils into some different team maintaining the traditional mentality generally.
Injuries were another painful (literally) problem burying team’s chances. In 2010/2011 it took the form of epidemic of some kind. More than ten players (regretfully not of a star caliber) got an NHL debut in New Jersey Devils because of it. This year traumatism again becomes an important factor. Travis Zajac, with no doubt top-two liner, still can not get in play because of what Dainius Zubrus have to move from line to line. Andy Greene, Jacob Josefson, Anton Volchenkov and Ilya Kovalchuk were forced to skip games due to injuries. Adam Henrique, who’s no less than Calder Trophy level of play was big asset to the team during december, is in disturbing condition. Henrik Tallinder is out with very serious health issue. Reports about his situation are quite optimistic but I doubt he will be a serious contributor in this season even if he is able to get back before summer. Adam Larsson, first round draft pick in 2011, didn’t dress for last game after taking two severe hits from Montreal. Although in last few years frequency of injuries raised in all the league, it won’t get any better for Devils.
Nevertheless, New Jersey have at least one line you can be proud of. Elias-Zubrus-Sykora, when those three play together – hold your breath and watch. This trio is perfectly balanced and showing great chemistry. Also, line combinations with Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson proved to be very effective. Team with such guys in roster surely have a strong spirit which for example helped to tie the game three times against Rangers and take two points in last meeting. New Jersey Devils also shows perfect support for each member and everyone making his best every moment. David Clarkson who was never considered as a sniper scores in every opportunity while Patrik Elias punishes opponents with hard hitting and Ilya Kovalchuk fights to defend the team’s honor.
3rd and 4th lines deserve the big bold minus. Coach is always changing players there trying hell knows who else, but all attempts end with the same result – nothing good. There is a gaping statistic chasm between the Peter Sykora and Ryan Carter or Brad Mills. Picking up the experienced and physical players with decent attacking ability like Ponikarovsky is a wise and well-timed decision but it alone will unlikely change the whole situatuion to something better.
David Clarkson deserves personal mention. He have most penalty minutes while there are Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton and Brad Mills in the roster. At the same time Clarkson was leading the Devils team by goals scored and now he is just two goals shy from Ilya Kovalchuk. This player fights well, fearlessly hits everybody around, shows magnificent forechecking and scores! scores hard-worked, tough and important goals. Last year I wrote that Jason Arnott is an ideal power forward in my russian blog. Now I must say that Clarkson is an ideal tough guy every GM would gladly add to the roster.
There is no need to be hockey analyst to see not everything is alright in the Devils’ net. Martin Brodeur was 40th from 42 regularly playing NHL netminders in december. This fall was followed by several good wins where legendary 30 who is referred by everyone as hall-of-famer corrected his stats a bit. However his consistency and confidence you may earlier feel in his eyes shining through mask is no longer presented. One moment Marty is staying on his head in great effort to keep the pucks away and next moment he is allowing limp goals one by one. Without knowing what’s going on in the locker room I can not say what causes problem. Maybe it is inevitable aging and losing quickness of movement or recurrence of injury. Thankfully Brodeur avoided injuries for years but from 2008 this lucky streak ended. What I can say now Marty needs a couple of shutouts to get his confidence back or else he may fall in playoffs. By now Johan Hedberg plays no worse at least though swedish veteran is too far from being Vezina Trophy nominee. Let’s hope things will be fine because now it’s too unclear.
As I said earlier Brodeur may be not the most reliable goalie in the game but he is still among the best in one on one challenge. That’s just kind of skill you’ll never lose. Add to this fact the fantastic scoring percentage from Kovalchuk and here you get the perfect result in shootouts. New Jersey won 9 games in SO, more than any other team. Players are not afraid of ties, they don’t run for winning goal at the expense of defense. I consider it as a good sign.
Last but not least. This point is not connected with play directly but may affect players’ thoughts. The fact is Devils have too many UFAs at the end of the season. Will Lou resign them by the cost of free space under the salary cap? Or will he fill roster with free agents from other teams? You’ll never guess when old fox is making his business. Though spontaneous changes are not traditional for the franchise and rarely become effective. We may also witness some transfers before the trading deadline.