The New Jersey Devils defense is already in the middle of the pack in the NHL, as they are currently 18th in the league with 2.85 goals against per game.
This week, they were dealt another blow to their unit. Tom Gulitti of The Record and author of the Devils blog Fire & Ice reported that Andy Greene will miss four to six weeks with a fractured toe, while Anton Volchenkov is day-to-day with a hand injury. Volchenkov hurt his hand in Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but aggravated it on Thursday in a matchup with the Ottawa Senators.
Greene is in his sixth season with New Jersey, having only played a full season in 2010-11. He had 23 points last year, but also posted disappointing minus-23 rating. His best season came in 2009-10, when he played four less games but had 37 points and a plus-nine.
So far this season, he has nine points and four penalty minutes. He ranks ninth with 18:24 of ice time and 2:04 played on the penalty kill, and he is sixth with 28 blocked shots.
Volchenkov, meanwhile, has dealt with injuries for several years of his career. In his second season with the Devils, he has two points and a minus-eight in 27 games. He is first with 51 blocked shots and 3:22 of ice time while ranking second with 60 hits and playing around 17 minutes a game.
With Greene on the injured reserve and Volchenkov possibly out of the lineup for Saturday’s game, a door opens for Mark Fraser.
Fraser has not yet played a full 82-game season in his three years in the organization. Last year, he had two assists and a plus-two in 26 games, but so far this season, he has no points and a minus-two through four games. Despite getting limited playing time, he is sixth with 2:23 of ice time on the penalty kill and averages 14:20 played per game.
The Devils also called up Matt Taormina and Alexander Urbom from Albany, but Gulitti said it is not known if either will play.
Both have some NHL experience. Taormina, a third-year pro, had five points and a plus-two in 17 games with New Jersey last season, while Urbom had one goal in eight NHL contests in 2010-11.
With Albany this year, Urbom has six points and a plus-six in 21 games, while Taormina has 12 points and a plus-two over 23 games.
The Devils defense gets younger with this latest set of injuries. Should Volchenkov not play Saturday against Montreal, New Jersey would only dress up to two defensemen who are at least 25 years old in Fraser and/or Taormina.
Here is a breakdown of the defenses of New Jersey’s upcoming opponents:
Montreal Canadiens (12/10 and 12/17): 2.45 goals against per game (10th in NHL)
Tampa Bay Lightning (12/12): 3.18 goals against per game (25th)
Florida Panthers (12/13): 2.36 goals against per game (seventh)
Dallas Stars (12/16): 2.82 goals against per game (16th)
As you can see, only the Lightning have a worse defense than Devils. But, that doesn’t mean much, as New Jersey’s offense is 26th in the NHL with 2.37 goals scored per game. New Jersey has also lost three out of their last five games, and they couldn’t pick up three goals in any of those defeats.
Now, here is how the opponents’ offenses stack up against the Devils 18th-ranked defense:
Montreal: 2.45 goals scored per game (25th in NHL)
Tampa Bay: 2.54 goals scored per game (20th)
Florida: 2.82 goals scored per game (11th)
Dallas: 2.56 goals scored per game (19th)
Every team the Devils will face in the next week has a better offense, even if Montreal’s is only better by less than a tenth of a point. Tampa Bay will be missing Martin St. Louis, who recently sustained an eye injury and needed surgery, but they still have Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos, who are always dangerous scorers.
Meanwhile, Florida and Dallas are experiencing resurgences in their seasons and should not be taken lightly.
The Devils best hope for a win will be against Montreal, whose defense is made up of a first-year player and an AHL callup. P.K. Subban is tough to deal with, but the unit also has newly acquired Tomas Kaberle, who was disappointing in a brief stint with the Carolina Hurricanes, and an aging Hal Gill.
Unfortunately, Greene’s injury makes things only more difficult. Urbom and Taormina are not experienced enough to really pick up the load, and not one defenseman boasts a positive plus/minus rating.
Personally, I would be surprised to see the Devils get more than one or two wins over this stretch, but I suppose you never know.