The New Jersey Devils will head to Colorado to take on the Avalanche tomorrow night, still smarting from the controversial loss to the Islanders on Saturday in which Zach Parise appeared to tie the game with 2.1 seconds left in regulation. The goal was reversed after review, allowing the Islanders to escape from New Jersey with a 3-2 win. The recent three game span, in which the Devils played the NHL’s two worst teams, ended with New Jersey registering four of a possible six points. They will go on the road for the next four, with games in Colorado, Winnipeg and against the surprising Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The road trip will be a serious test of New Jersey’s NHL-best penalty killing unit, which has put up a stellar 94.2 % this season. Colorado, Toronto and Winnipeg’s power play units are all ranked in the top 10 in the NHL, with the Avalanche and Leafs at two and three, respectively.
The special teams will only be part of the story, however. The inability of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk to put the puck in the net is beginning to seriously hamper the Devils offense. The two stars have produced a combined 10 goals through the first quarter of the season, a disappointing total that has left the team looking punchless during certain games. Head coach Pete DeBoer addressed Parise and Kovalchuk’s lack of scoring after the Islanders loss on Saturday, choosing to chalk it up to bad luck:
“The fact that we’ve got the record we have and those guys have been a little snake bit around the net is a good sign, because when they do come around we’ll be obviously a lot tougher team.”
The second line, featuring Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus, has been doing most of the scoring for the team, a fact that DeBoer also praised in the post game press conference on Saturday:
“That’s a credit to Elias’ line and what they’ve done” DeBoer said. “If you said, those guys would have that many goals and the power play wouldn’t be clicking at a good rate and we’d still be winning games, you would take that. So, there’s upside there. We just have to get some of those fixed.”
Getting Kovalchuk and Parise “fixed” is something that will be DeBoer’s biggest problem as the season winds on. He has insisted on playing them on the same line (along with dynamic rookie center Adam Henrique), despite the fact that there have been only small flashes of the explosiveness that he expects from two star players playing together.
The team has kept their heads above water thus far with a combination of the Elias line’s consistency and timely contributions from others, like David Clarkson. But if the Devils are going to make the playoffs, the players that are being paid to produce big numbers, Parise and Kovalchuk, have to step up.