At the quarter mark of the New Jersey Devil’s 2010-2011 campaign, they’ve got a 5-13-2 record to show for it, leaving them fourth in the Atlantic Division and fourteenth in the Eastern Conference. The Devils lead the league in goals against and have scored the fewest goals in the league. Simply put: Things suck.
There really isn’t much to discuss that hasn’t already been beaten to death, good or bad and I can easily sum up the Devils after twenty games in a few sentences. John MacLean’s found little life in his offense, despite a plethora of capable names. Ilya Kovalchuk’s under immense pressure and criticism, considering he’s only scored four goals this year, not a good way to start off a fifteen-year $100 million contract. Colin White is the only defenseman with a positive plus/minus rating at plus three but even he, along with the rest of the defense corps has been shaky all year and appears to be having trouble adjusting to the new style of play and getting familiar with each other. Martin Brodeur has been anything but spectacular and Johan Hedberg can’t catch a break.
With a quarter of the season having passed, I’ve come up with the following conclusions and suggestions for this team…
This isn’t John MacLean’s fault. If I recall correctly, the Devils had a losing record twenty games into the regular season the last time a rookie coach was at the helm. Twenty games in the 2007-2008 season, the Devils were 8-10-2 under rookie head coach Brent Sutter and went on to finish second in the division, fourth in the Eastern Conference. Yes, there’s a differential of three wins and six points, but the fact of the matter is this could be another case of history repeating itself. I’m convinced there’s too much talent on this team for this to continue the whole season but even if MacLean isn’t at fault that doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a new head coach could get this team going.
Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias are the only players that have shown signs of life thus far. Despite the overall lack of offensive production, Arnott and Elias make for almost a quarter of the goals this team’s scored this season. Elias currently leads the team with twelve points, while Arnott leads the team in goals with six. Although both players are up there in age, they’re currently the team’s most consistent producers, which isn’t saying much. MacLean should build on the production of these two rather than separate them.
The situation on defense isn’t utterly terrible. Andy Greene is quietly having a respectable year as far as his stats are concerned but his poor defensive play counteracts any major acknowledging. Greene currently has two goals, eight points, and is on pace for eight goals and thirty-two points for the season. Matt Taormina’s anticipated return will be a plus. So far, I think he’s the best thing to come out of the minors that could stick with the team since Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder are the types of players whose best player traits don’t show up on the score sheet. Both are playing with a lot of heart and I think the fans really need to get off their cases. As the team improves, so will they. Considering the team’s state and them being first year players, they aren’t having that bad of seasons. Colin White’s played well and is currently the only defenseman on the roster with a positive rating at plus three. Matt Corrente and Oliver Magnan are just there but I see a lot of potential in Corrente in the long stretch.
Whenever the Devils straighten themselves out with their injury and salary cap situations, I think wingers Mattias Tedenby and Alexander Vasyunov should stick to the big team as both players personify what this team needs. They’re both young, energetic, and have contributed in big ways to a team with scarce production. Vasyunov’s been shuffled throughout the top three lines in his eleven games with the big team, averaging around eleven minutes of ice time. He has a goal, four points, and most notably is a plus two. Mattias Tedenby plays with a lot of flare and has two goals and three points in five games. Despite an admirable start, Tedenby’s only flaw is his size or lack there of. He’s gotten knocked around a few times, most notably in last week’s game against the Boston Bruins when he got crushed twice by Mark Stuart.
With Tedenby on topic, I want to see MacLean deploy him and Ilya Kovalchuk on the same line for an entire game. It’s clear Kovalchuk’s having trouble developing chemistry and has been nomadic throughout the offense. Tedenby’s speed and energy will enable him to keep up with Kovalchuk and he’s got the skill set and potential to form and compliment plays on the rush. Add a sturdy center like Zajac or even Zubrus, who can finish plays or park himself in front of the net, you could have the makings of a pretty reliable line and secondary form of consistent offensive production outside of the Elias-Arnott duo.
Also, watch Brian Rolston for now. Not that it’s really anything to get excited about but he’s had a goal and assist in the four games since he’s returned. The lack of production from the third line has been bothersome to me but I think the next ten games are vital in determining whether or not Rolston has anything left in the tank or a place on this team for that matter. If not, I think Lamoriello and MacLean need to swallow their pride, work around the cap hit, and lessen his role on the team or give his roster spot to some younger blood. Like Greene, Rolston’s two points have come quietly and the only reason I’ve taken note of it is because this team needs all the offense they can get regardless of where, who, or how it comes.
The Devils play game No. 21 against the Washington Capitals. Last time these two teams met, nine goals were scored, seven by the Capitals. As we should already know, his majesty Brodeur is sidelined with an elbow injury and Johan Hedberg’s getting the start tonight. No Langenbrunner, Parise, or Taormina. Lou Lamoriello was quoted saying he’s going to have to “come to some conclusions very soon” after his twenty game evaluation of the team. All options, including the potential gutting of the current coaching staff remain on the table. The Devils will honor their former head coach Pat Burns, who passed away after a long battle with cancer. Hopefully this team plays with some fire tonight and comes out swinging by playing in honor of the memory of the last coach to bring the Stanley Cup to the Garden State.