The New Jersey Devils played their 25th game of the season on Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets, and are now about 30 percent of the way through their 2011-12 season.
New Jersey will continue the second quarter of the season on Tuesday night, when they travel to Toronto to take on the surging Maple Leafs.
Before that game, let’s take a look at how the team is faring after their first 25 games. We will look at the key units of the Devils and suggest what needs to be done for them to be successful going forward.
The Devils are scoring 2.28 goals per game, which is good (or not so good) for a dismal 27th ranking in the league. However, they have managed at least three goals in 14 of their first 25 games, or 56 percent of the time.
Patrik Elias is currently the leading scorer with 21 points on the season. Rookie Adam Henrique is second with 17 points, while Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are tied for third with 16 points. Elias also leads the Devils with nine goals scored, while Parise, Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson each have seven goals to date.
The offense will be eager to add Travis Zajac back to the lineup. Zajac, one of the league’s most underrated forwards, has two 60-point and 20-goal seasons while with New Jersey, and he had 44 points last year. He has not played this season after sustaining an Achilles’ heel injury.
New Jersey surrenders 2.84 goals per game and is ranked 18th in the NHL in that category. They have given up at least three goals in 15 of their 25 games (60 percent of the time), which negates the fact that they score at least three times in some of those games.
Andy Greene and Adam Larsson lead Devils defensemen with nine points this year.
The plus/minus rating is a concern. Jacob Josefson leads the team with a plus-one rating, but he has not played since Oct. 21 against San Jose. Overall, New Jersey has a team minus-20 rating, which ranks 27th in the league.
In addition to giving up three goals in over half their games, they have allowed at least four goals in every game of their three-game losing streak. This includes allowing the struggling Colorado Avalanche to put up six goals in a recent matchup.
Martin Brodeur is clearly no longer the goaltender he used to be. When he isn’t struggling with injuries, he is far from stellar on the ice. He currently has a 5-7-0 record with a .879 save percentage and 3.31 GAA. He has dropped four of his last five starts and was pulled in Friday’s game against the Minnesota Wild after allowing three goals on four shots. He’s also allowed at least three goals in each of his last four losses.
His only recent win came against the Columbus Blue Jackets after he made 35 saves on 36 shots. We all know how horrible Columbus is this year, so beating them isn’t exactly worth a gold star.
Johan Hedberg has been solid in his starts. He has a 7-5-1 record for a .916 save percentage and a 2.24 GAA. He only allowed one goal on Friday after replacing Brodeur; however, he has lost two of his last four starts.
Furthermore, Hedberg is 38 years old, so like Brodeur, he is nearing the end of his career. Yes, he is playing well, but he is not the long-term answer for the Devils’ goaltending situation.
The Devils have called up Keith Kinkaid from Albany this season, but he has not gotten a chance to play. The first-year netminder has a record of 7-4-2 with the AHL Devils to go with a .908 save percentage and a 2.73 GAA.
The Devils’ power play is nothing to write home about, as it’s ranked 27th in the NHL with a 12.1 percent success rate. They have given up seven shorthanded goals, the most in the league, and have scored just 11 power-play goals.
Elias has four power-play goals, while Kovalchuk and Clarkson each have two. Zubrus, Parise and Petr Sykora each have one goal on the man advantage.
However, the penalty kill has been incredible, as it is first in the league with a 94.6 percent rate. The Devils have only given up five power-play goals.
Parise leads the team with two shorthanded goals, while Elias has one.
Peter DeBoer is in his first season as the Devils head coach. He was hired from the Florida Panthers, but only posted one winning season during his tenure. That was in 2008-09, when the Panthers finished with a record of 41-30-11 for 93 points and ninth in the Eastern Conference. They missed out on the playoffs after losing a tiebreaker to the Montreal Canadiens.
Florida failed to make the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, and DeBoer was fired at the end of last season.
Currently, New Jersey has a record of 12-12-1 for 25 points. They are in fourth in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference. Based on first impression, this does nothing to indicate that DeBoer is the right man for the job.
The Devils are looking to get back to the playoffs after missing the 2011 postseason, which ended a streak of 13 straight playoff appearances. Being a bubble team will not cut it in the Eastern Conference, as they will have competition from the Canadiens and the Washington Capitals for the remaining playoff spot.
The team could stand to get younger on offense, as leading scorer Elias is 35 years old, while Zubrus is 33. New Jersey could also use a power-play specialist and an offensive defenseman.
However, the Devils have a lot of money tied up in Ilya Kovalchuk and Anton Volchenkov, who are inconsistent performers, so finding the money to make a move could be difficult.
In addition, DeBoer should consider giving Kinkaid a chance in goal if a call-up presents itself. He has earned it with his play in the minors, and even if he plays against a weak opponent, it will still give him NHL experience. Brodeur and Hedberg aren’t going to be around forever, and at some point, the Devils have to look at a possible netminder of the future.
Right now, the Devils are just average, and “just average” teams don’t make the playoffs. And if they do, they don’t get very far.
Overall Grade: C+