by David Pavlak on 10/11/11 at 02:24 PM ET
After last years disappointing season, the Devils are quickly trying to turn the page. Head coach Peter DeBoer is trying to help keep the past stay in the past. After the Devils opened the season with a 3-0 loss, however, the whispers started to begin that the Devils were no better then last years shaky squad. With the emergence of a healthy Zach Parise teamed up with the powerhouse scoring ability of Ilya Kovalchuk and the dynamic on ice ability of Patrik Elias, can the Devils make it back into the playoffs on nothing more then offense?
The biggest question mark surrounding the Devils prior to the start of the season was defense. Did the Devils have a tough enough defense to lead the team back to the playoffs? While drafting Adam Larsson is a start, I don’t see how the Devils have formulated a consistent enough defense to compliment the offense. Through the first two games, there have been several communicational breakdowns, as well as blown assignments. The Devils also had a tough time clearing the puck out from in front of their own net, which led to a goal during their game against the Flyers.
Larsson will eventually grow into the role that he was destined to be in, but for right now, he is still a rookie. There are moments of strong defensive play, followed up with actions that make you scratch your head. The inexperience on the big stage shows, and could possibly hurt the Devils in the long run. Along with Henrik Tallinder, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov and Mark Fayne, the Devils have a collective group of average defensemen. They are reliable at times and questionable the next minute.
With the lack of defense comes a larger workload for the 39 year old Martin Brodeur who will have to remain in top form in order to truly help the Devils this year. Brodeur played in the 3-0 loss to the Flyers, and actually had a fairly solid game. He had a few breakaway stops, and many other good quick saves. Unfortunately, the defensive breakdowns led to scoring opportunities, and Brodeur wasn’t able to make all of them.
Brodeurs backup, Johan Hedberg played in during Monday’s matinee game against the Carolina Hurricanes and came away with the decision in a 4-2 win. Hedberg also looked sharp, and the Devils should be happy to know that if Marty needed a game off, that Hedberg is more then able to jump into the situation. At 38 years old though, you have to wonder how much Hedberg has left, just like Brodeur. Last season Hedberg went 15-12 through 34 games with a 2.38 GAA. Brodeur went 23-26 through 56 games and posted a 2.45 GAA.
So where does that leave us? With the offense.
With an average defense and aging goaltenders, the team may have to rely on the ability to score more goals then the defense lets up in order to win games. It may not be about WINNING a game as much as it is about SURVIVING a game.
With Zach Parise return should come more offense for the Devils who had a very difficult time finding the back of the net last season. Parise is easily one of the top tier wingers in the game right now, and should be able to help spark the Devils offense. He scored twice in the Devils victory over the Canes and should be back in regular season form very shortly. He has been quoted as saying that he is still jumpy with the puck and with the nerves comes indecision with his play. That should diminish as Parise sees more ice and becomes comfortable playing at high speed once again.
Ilya Kovalchuk is a constant threat to score whenever he is on the ice, and his numbers and stats back that up. Most teams double team Kovalchuk when he touches the puck in order to neutralize his scoring ability. If he finds some room on the ice this year, I think he can have a 40 goal season for the Devils. He scored the game winner against the Canes and should most likely continue to score with Jacob Josefson and Nick Palmieri finding him on the ice. If Kovalchuk is continually double teamed all season, he could accumulated 40 assists by returning the favor to his linemates.
Then there is Mr. Reliable, Patrik Elias. A workhorse when he is out on the ice, Elias will look to once against have another successful season with the Devils. No one could know more about the Devils organization by now then Elias, and he will look to be one of the driving members to help the Devils make a return to the playoffs. Elias is aging and his time playing hockey may be running out, so one or two more runs at the Stanley Cup are probably in his immediate future. I see Elias ending the year with a 60 point season.
Last season, the Devils had a tough time scoring the puck. They were near the bottom in goals scored and any other offensive statistic. However, this season should be a turnaround. With a healthy Parise, the Devils should be able to ride the offensive wave back into the postseason. Kovalchuk and Elias will also contribute in helping the Devils. Other members such as Josefson, Palmieri, David Clarkson, Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus will also help the Devils keep their offensive numbers up. With the impending offensive outbreak, I see the Devils being able to overcome a shaky defense, and sneak into the playoffs with the eighth seed.
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I am an all around NHL fan. I love to watch Atlantic Division, and root for the Philadelphia Flyers. Just because I cheer for the Flyers, doesn’t mean I don’t keep up with the other teams in the division, specifically the New Jersey Devils. Devils Advocate will provide you with the most important Devils news, filled with my opinion about the selected topic.
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