The New Jersey Devils are still in the top half of the Eastern Conference with 22 points (9-3-4), but they haven’t put together a solid 60-minute game since completing a home-and-home sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 10 by identical 3-1 scores. Those two ‘convincing wins’ were followed up by roller coaster week: a 4-2 home loss to Carolina, a 5-3 home win over Philadelphia after trailing 3-1 at the end of 20 minutes, a 5-1 drubbing on the road at the hands of the New York Islanders and a 2-1 shootout loss at home to the severely shorthanded Ottawa Senators. “We have to find ways to score more goals and play a 60-minute game,” said Stephen Gionta after the loss to the Senators.
Despite these troubles, there have been some positives for the Devils — including the fact that they are currently tied with Pittsburgh for first in the Atlantic Division & Eastern Conference. Other reasons for them to feel good are: the play of Andy Greene and Adam Larsson on the blueline, scoring depth and David Clarkson’s emergence as a legitimate NHL goal scoring threat.
In the come from behind win over the Flyers, Greene was a +4 and Larsson was a +3. New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer has said multiple times after games this season how impressed he has been with Greene’s play. As far as DeBoer is concerned he is playing the best hockey of his career. The 20-year-old Larsson was a healthy scratch in the season’s first five games, but over the last 11 games he has looked like a steady, maturing NHL defenseman and he’s fit well alongside Greene during even-strength and PK situations.
Greene makes a perfect slap-pass on Stefan Matteau’s 1st NHL goal:
Most ‘experts’ didn’t expect much from the Devils this season, who were routinely picked to finish 11th or 12th in the East; after all how would they ever survive without Zach Parise? After 16 games the team leader in goals is Clarkson with 10 (4th in NHL), the team leader in points/assists is Patrik Elias with 19p/15a. Ilya Kovalchuk has only five goals so far but has ten assists and he’s made the goals count — 2 shorthanded (NHL leader), 2 game-winners. Five of Clarkson’s ten goals have come via the power play (2nd in NHL) and he has three game-winners (2nd in NHL); Elias is 8th in the NHL in scoring + New Jersey has 17 players that have at least two points.
The goaltending has been superb with Johan Hedberg and Martin Brodeur playing like they are 29 & 30-years-old rather than 39 & 40-years-old. Brodeur has allowed five goals in two games and Hedberg surrendered five once; in every other game neither one has given up more than three goals.
Upcoming for the Devils is the “get fat” portion of their schedule — two consecutive road games against Washington (15th in East) and a home-and-home against Winnipeg (14th in East); six-to-eight points should be expected in four games against teams that are inferior. “We have to be ready to go, the Caps have been playing better of late,” said Gionta of the next games on the horizon, “it’s going to be a tough place to play.”
There are still issues that need to be corrected. In the games against the Flyers they surrendered three goals in less than three minutes before rallying for a 5-3 win. The following night against the Islanders they surrendered three goals in less than four minutes and ultimately lost 5-1. The PK has been average during the past six games, giving up power play goals in four of those games.
Jacob Josefson’s play has dropped off a bit, so he was sent down to Albany (AHL) and newly-acquired Andrei Loktionov made his Devils’ debut against Ottawa. “If we score one goal a game, we aren’t going to win a lot of games,” said Kovalchuk after the loss to the Senators. He also thinks Loktionov will help the team: “He was good, he works hard and tries his best. It’s going to take him a little time to adjust, but I thinks he works hard and he’ll be good (for us).”
Chances are the Devils will be among the top-8 teams in the East once the playoffs start at the end of April, but the more points they can accumulate now, will lead to less stress as this 48-game sprint of a season creeps along towards March. “There’s always an urgency to gain points,” said New Jersey captain Bryce Salvador. “The most important thing is to get points and we’ve been getting them.”