Before I get into anything, let me apologize to my admins and readers for my lengthy absence. I’ve been on and off sick, school, two jobs, and a few personal ordeals have starved me of much personal time. Simply put, things flat out suck in Devil Land right now. Their ridiculously slow start to their 2010-2011 campaign wasn’t a factor to my recent lack of posted write ups, but it surely made it all the more discouraging. Nonetheless, if you’re a true fan, you stick by your team through thick and thin. After ten games, the Devils stand at 2-7-1, wallowing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They look more like a team competing for the No. 1 overall pick than a Stanley Cup title. If the issue(s) could be identified, the Devils would have ascended out of their funk and continue “business as usual”. We as fans have speculated, criticized, and pointed the finger of blame to no avail on zoning in to a potential solution.
Let me say a team with the offensive talent the New Jersey Devils have is not a bad team. Prior to the beginning of the regular season, I preached about a possible slow start. There are lots of new faces, a new coach, and off ice issues such as the inevitable return of the team’s cap problems when the likes of Bryce Salvador and Brian Rolston are cleared to play. No, these are not excuses, just possibilities. I doubt the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk or Martin Brodeur are the source of the team’s struggles. Their record justifies the only team effort they’ve had to show all season and doesn’t focus on one particular player contrary to what people think or want to believe. You know right now, non-Devils fans are enjoying every second of these hard times in Newark, especially after New Jersey’s role in this past drama filled off-season.
I want to start by looking at the offense. Call me bold but I think head coach John MacLean will do this team a justice by reuniting the trio of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Ilya Kovalchuk. Although it was pre-season hockey, that line proved capable of being a potent offensive force, same goes for the reunion of Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias. Yes, the offense isn’t producing and I think it’d be purposeless to split up combos that proved capable of doing so. Chemistry like that just doesn’t disappear. I think something is preventing it. I still have a lot of faith in John Maclean and don’t want to see him lower himself by resurrecting habits his predecessor Jacques Lemaire wreaked on the team last year.
If chemistry isn’t the issue, what is? I think one of the problems is in the form of a cloud looming in the locker room since before training camp began: who’s going to fall victim to the inevitable salary dump? Of course none of the players may admit or realize it could be a huge issue lurking in the back of their minds that’s subconsciously throwing them off their game. Right now, the LTIR placements of Bryce Salvador and Brian Rolston provide a temporary solution. With both players inching towards a full recovery, something has to happen to get the Devils under the salary cap, something permanent. The hype generated by the media and blogosphere tied at least six or seven players as cap casualty candidates and I think Lou Lamoriello did a grave injustice to his team by resorting to LTIR to buy time. Sources told me there is interest in the likes of Danius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador, even Colin White and Brian Rolston. Teams aren’t spiting Lamoriello and there hasn’t been an issue of negotiation. During the pre-season, I think Lou wanted to see who was compatible in the team’s new layout, but is bothered by the low blow he’ll deal to one or two of his “type” players by moving them. We all know the organization’s “Lou-Type” players are greatly respected and rewarded by coaching and management. There’s definitely a sentimental element that’s distracting Lamoriello from doing what’s necessary for the better of the team. I think Lou is a high quality general manager that can wheel and deal himself out of multiple situations but may have finally met his match. Now he has to swallow his pride and continue distancing himself from the box he’s operated out of all these years.
Whether he trades or waives a player or two, the sooner it gets done, the better. It’ll diminish any anticipation that could be plaguing his team’s locker room and shift the universal focus to the regular season instead of deliberating who’ll be wearing a different sweater a month from now. I didn’t ramble off topic and am getting to a point regarding my ten game evaluation of the offense. With the players the Devils have in their top six, let alone full offense, I think there’s a lot of untapped potential that can’t be unearthed unless the cap burden is lifted from the team’s shoulders. Including Parise, Zajac, Kovalchuk, Elias and Arnott I think the top six needs a younger finisher-type player. David Clarkson fits the general profile, but his struggles this season have been well-documented. It took him until last night to record his first NHL goal. From there out, the Devils have the players to maintain depth stability on the third and fourth line. With their lack of offense however, it makes them look like a paper team.
As far as the offense goes, there are a few moves I was against seeing. Despite his work ethic and versatility, I don’t think Danius Zubrus has a place in the top six. He lacks the offensive consistency and is better suited finding a place on the third or fourth line. Ilya Kovalchuk and Rod Pelley also have no business whatsoever playing on the same line. They’re two different players and Kovalchuk’s skill limitations and player type greatly exceed and differ from Pelley’s. I’m sure MacLean’s simultaneous deploying of the two came in the heat of desperation. Long as he doesn’t make a habit out of putting his stars with his defensive forwards, I’ll let this pass for now.
Out of the nine defensemen that suited up in the past ten games, they’ve combined for a minus twenty-two, Andy Greene being a minus eight. Only four defensemen have appeared on the score sheet, notably rookie Matt Taormina with two goals and four points. I like MacLean’s utilization of Taormina, who led the Lowell Devils in points last year and is one of the few pluses coming out of the Devils thus far. While Andy Greene ties Taormina in points amongst defensemen, his minus eight stands out. I think that’ll improve when Anton Volchenkov returns, who was paired with Greene during the two games he played. Volchenkov’s superb defensive play picks up the slack Greene’s questionable defensive coverage leaves, which could enable him to focus on advancing his offensive skills. We all know how badly the Devil’s defense needs offensive production from the blue line. I’m more so baffled by the criticism Henrik Tallinder’s received as it appears many Devils fans have found their new blue line scapegoat. Yes, his minus seven is runner up to Greene’s, but when you break the past ten games down, you’ll see he had a negative plus/minus in six of them, four of which he only went minus one. Although the principle stands he was on the ice for a goal against, everyone on the team’s struggling right now in different ways. Tallinder’s numbers make him stand out but it shouldn’t take away the fact he’s capable of playing heavy minutes and has an overlooked mentoring role, which could be integral for the young guys on the blue line such as Taormina and Matthew Corrente.
In six games, Matthew Corrente quietly put up three assists and over thirty penalty minutes. It remains to be seen if he can build any consistency on his first three NHL points. I laud MacLean for the minutes he’s given Corrente, not to mention playing him in his actual position. Corrente hits hard and fights to accumulate momentum, which shows he plays with a lot of heart and spirit. If he continues his play, I can see him sticking with the big team from here on out.
What’s in next for the Devils? I don’t know. Despite the plethora of changes, them continuing where they left off last season leaves a lot to be said. I won’t mention anything about the goaltending. Why say the same stuff for the past seven, eight months worded differently? All I will say is Brodeur looks like Brodeur on some nights, and a peewee goaltender on others. I’ll leave any conclusions up for debate.
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Written by Mike Luciano