Devils Defense Disrespected, Doubted & Steady

Through the first fifteen games of the NHL season only the San Jose Sharks and New Jersey Devils have dressed and played the same six defensemen in each game, and much to the so-called expert’s surprise, it is the Devils who sit sixth overall in the NHL standings currently. Most hockey fans probably couldn’t name half of New Jersey’s six blueliners, but all that matters is results and as a group, they have been steadfast defensively – while chipping in more than expected offensively.

The six defenders — Andy Greene, Damon Severson, John Moore, Kyle Quincey, Yohann Auvitu, Ben Lovejoy — have combined for 28 total points, led by Severson’s 12 which ties him for the team lead (Taylor Hall). Through training camp, preseason, and now the regular season this group has gelled and taken on the personality of their leader and the Devils’ captain Greene, who is a low-key, team-first guy. The familiarity has helped as well, with no injuries thus far, and everyone in the group has been a part of the team’s early success on both sides of the ice.

Somewhat surprising in that only three of them were Devils last season, but a tip of the cap to the three newer Devs who have fit into the group seamlessly. Many wondered who would fill Adam Larsson’s skates, as the first pair defender alongside Greene and it has been the 22-year-old Severson who is excelling in the role now with a start reminiscent of his rookie campaign two seasons ago.

One of the great stories so far this season has been that of 27-year-old rookie French rookie Auvitu who has played a solid game and quickly adapted to the NHL game after playing in Finland last season. One major concern at the onset of the season was how he would adapt to the speed in the world’s best league (would he be caught hooking, holding, reaching?), but it hasn’t been a problem, at all, for Auvitu – who has zero penalty minutes over his first 15 career NHL games. He and Greene are the only two Devils without PiMs.

The team is on a five-game winning streak, their longest in five years, and the blue line has been a major force during this time period as coach John Hynes explained after the fourth of those five wins. “Our defense is doing a nice job of being threatening to play against, they were certainly involved in a lot of our offensive chances and they were a factor.”

Week That Was:

at Dallas the sextet had eleven of the Devils’ 33 shots on goal, and Severson scored the opening goal of the game.

at home vs. Buffalo they combined for 2g-4a, five of the six had at least one point.

at Buffalo it was Auvitu who scored his first NHL goal in regulation, and Greene who scored on a penalty shot in overtime.

at home vs. Carolina they combined for twelve of New Jersey’s 41 shots on goal.

at Carolina it was Quincey and Moore who were on the ice for all three of Mike Cammalleri’s goals.

Greene’s penalty shot goal was perhaps the most impressive of all of the accolades the group has achieved thus far, simply because he is the least likely player to find himself in that position. While he does have some offense in his game, it’s not like he’s Mike Green. His teammates have given him some good-natured ribbing over the GWG he scored, and apparently, the head coach will too.

“I think the players did for sure, I know a couple of the assistant coaches did,” Hynes replied while cracking a smile, when asked if he has joined in on the fun and games in teasing Greene after his heroics, “I personally didn’t; not yet. Maybe Monday.” Greene himself admitted that his biggest concern was missing the shot and becoming a “YouTube sensation, for the wrong reasons,” so everyone had a laugh about his unlikely penalty shot in overtime goal. “It felt good to be able to contribute in that way and make an impact in the game.”

He also said with a grin that it took him ‘about 45 minutes’ to go through all of the text messages he received after his penalty shot goal in Buffalo. “It was fun, it was good; always exciting when that happens.”

Expect the Unexpected

Like Auvitu, Quincey was a player that not much was expected of and he was signed/added to the roster at the end of training camp, so it has been interesting to see how he has integrated himself into the group successfully. After a bit of a slow start, he has started to become much more dependable and at home against the Sabres he potted his first goal as a Devil.

“It’s always nice (to score a goal),” Quincey said after the home win against Buffalo. “I like to contribute when I can, but I try to keep the puck out of our net. It was a good feeling though; the fans were awesome tonight. It was a really good atmosphere.”

“My goal is to just get better every day, every game, practice, whatever,” said Quincey, who has been on an accelerated learning curve after joining New Jersey prior to the start of the season. “I feel like that is happening and I’m feeling better and better every game. It’s been nice to have the same D-partners, learning tendencies and all that, so it’s been good (having the same six defensemen play in every game).”

Greene expounded on that point a bit more. “ I like our resiliency. We don’t get too down, too high; obviously, there are ebbs and flows throughout the game but it’s important how quick we can get that momentum back. (As a group) we need to be involved, we have to be involved – the way the game is played today, it’s important that we support the rush, get up in the rush and get involved. Keep pucks alive; we have to if we’re going to be successful.”

“Knock on wood, but we haven’t had any injuries or anything like that,” Greene told The Hockey Writers regarding his team’s defensive corps. “Guys are playing pretty hard, and well; obviously there is some switching (of pairs) throughout a game but we’re familiar with it in that we have all been able to practice together and in games. It’s nice and hopefully, we can keep it going.”

This group will be tested more now than ever with Hall out of the lineup for 3-4 weeks following left knee surgery, but so far they have been up to every task they have faced. The three regulation losses they have ranks them second in the league behind only Montreal’s two, and they won their first game without Hall in Dallas. But now comes the three-game California road trip, followed by home games against Toronto and Detroit before they get back on the road for games in Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Chicago and Nashville.