By Max Herman
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Seven games are in the books for the New Jersey Devils and few can complain with their 4-2-1 record so far. They’ve faced some stiff competition from the likes of the Flyers, Kings, Penguins, and Sharks and for the most part have held their own.
The Devs have shown a lot of promise in this young season, but as is the case with most teams in the league, there has also been some exposure to the weak areas of the team’s make-up. So let’s take a look at some of the things Devils’ fans should be excited about while giving equal time to the problems this team may face as we dive deeper into the schedule.
Allow me to build you up, buttercup, before I let you down…
Things To Be Excited About:
The Zach Attack is Back, Jack
In the first seven games of the year, captain Zach Parise has shown that not only is his knee completely healed, he may be as good as we’ve ever seen him. Watching these games on TV doesn’t even come close to doing justice to how well he is skating.
Every time he hits the ice, Parise seems to be in the right place at the right time. Whenever his line is on the ice, the Devils seem to tilt the ice into the offensive zone and sustain pressure on the opposing goaltender.
He and Patrik Elias have combined for 11 points in the first 7 games (7 G, 4 A) and have shown that they can carry the offensive load in any given game, even though no one line should be responsible for providing all of the team’s offense. I’ll have more on that later in this column.
The Moose Is Loose
Whenever you have a proven goaltender with the pedigree of Martin Brodeur, you can never consider losing him for any extended period of time as a benefit to your club. But when you have a back-up goalie who plays as well as Johan Hedberg has been playing for the Devils, you can consider it a non-factor.
In the six games that Hedberg has played, he is posting a Brodeurian 4-1-1 record with a 1.86 GAA and .937 save percentage. Not only that, he’s been a monster in the shootout and has made up for more than a few defensive lapses in the Devils’ end.
Is he as good as Marty? Heck no. But as long as he stays as razor sharp as he’s been so far, the Devils need not look at their goaltending situation as a liability.
Breaking In The New Blood
Between Adam Larsson, Adam Henrique, Mark Fayne, Mattias Tedenby, and Nick Palmieri, none of these guys have played a full season in the NHL yet. But all of them are contributing reasonably well so far early this season.
Larsson, the Devils highest draft pick since they took that Neidermayer guy back in 1993, has proven to be an iron man on the ice if nothing else. He may not have any points yet this season, but who could have predicted that only Ilya Kovalchuk would have more ice time per game than the young Swede. Clearly he has earned the trust of Peter DeBoer and the rest of the staff.
The other four guys also figure to play huge roles on the team as the Devils search for scoring depth. They’re all pretty much guaranteed to experience some growing pains as young players are want to do, but amidst all that we should see some shining moments that provide a glimpse into the future of the organization as well.
Things To Be Concerned About:
Feeling A Bit Off-Center
Jacob Josefson is a promising young player, and when we learned that he would miss three months after surgery to repair a broken right clavicle, obviously there was no way to twist this into a positive situation for the Devils. But the thing that made him non-disposable was not so much that he was young and talented, it was that he was a center.
Even after calling up Henrique from the minors, the Devils still have a huge void down the middle, being that they were thin at that position to begin with after #1 center Travis Zajac’s Achilles injury during the offseason. Elias has seen as many minutes at center this season as he has at his natural position at left wing, if not more. Last night in Los Angeles, the Devs even had Parise playing center for the first time since he was in college.
Thus far it has shown up in the faceoff category, as New Jersey’s not-so-flattering 48.2% win percentage on draws ranks 24th in the NHL.
Brodeur Losing His Air Of Invincibility
He’s played more games than any goalie in NHL history. He used to routinely play anywhere between 70-78 games out of the 82-game schedule. But all of a sudden, Martin Brodeur’s health has become a serious question mark.
Marty’s most recent malady certainly isn’t one that is going to jeopardize his season, much less his career, but let’s face facts. This is now three years out of the last four where Brodeur has gone down with an injury that has forced him to miss significant time.
At 39 years old with an expiring contract on the books, this may very well be Brodeur’s final season. When he is healthy he has proven that he can defy his birth certificate, but is Father Time finally catching up with the Devils’ goalie? At this point I can’t dispute that it is a legitimate concern.
Many pundits had a hunch that scoring depth was going to be an issue with this team, and sure enough, through the first seven games it has been. A grand total of six players have accounted for the Devils’ 14 goals so far this season.
Up until their game against the Kings, Elias and Parise played on the top line together and provided the vast majority of the offense. As of Tuesday night in LA, DeBoer put Parise at center in between Ilya Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri while having Elias center a line in between Petr Sykora and Dainus Zubrus. This worked for at least one night, as the Elias line was responsible for all three of the Devils’ goals.
But the fact remains that the Devs are going to have to get contributions from at least three of their lines. The duo of Mattias Tedenby and David Clarkson has shown flashes, but still needs to produce more consistently before they see a boost in minutes.
The lack of depth has meant a lot more ice time for Kovalchuk, who is playing almost 3 full minutes more per game than any other forward in the NHL. And although having a proven scorer like Kovy on the ice a lot isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the short-term, over the course of the long season it is bound to catch up with him.
So what have the first seven games of this season taught us about the New Jersey Devils? Well, honestly, next to nothing. You can’t make too much out of any seven-game stretch. But what we do know is that their compete level is very high under DeBoer’s watch, and they will give their opponents all they can handle.
I was in the minority when I stated before the season started that I thought the Devils would be a playoff team this year. And so far I haven’t seen anything that would sway me off of that opinion. Even though there will definitely be some bumps in the road, I think this team will hit its stride at some point. They may not be true Stanley Cup contenders, but once they start putting everything together, the Devils should be able to compete with any team in the league.
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