The New Jersey Devils have been playing quite well of late, winning four of five games thus far on their current six-game road trip. The only slip up was a tight 4-3 loss at the expense of the Anaheim Ducks. Even with the team playing so well, the Devils expect the return of Brendan Shanahan to the lineup, when the team plays in Nashville to complete the road trip.
The obvious question that jumps to the forefront is which player will come out of the lineup in favor of Shanahan. The way I see it, there really is only one candidates, although one could debate there is possibly up to four. Let's take a look as I see it.
Jay Pandolfo - One of my personal favorite Devils, Pandolfo has not nearly been the same player since a crippling injury he had November 28, 2007 against the Dallas Stars. It was a rare pelvic type injury that rarely gets seen from a hockey player. In fact, it's the type of injury you usually see as the result of car accidents.
I can't really identify exactly if that's the cause, or if it's the fact Pandolfo recently turned 34 that might be the cause. However, Pandolfo is not the same player on either side of the ice. He never has been a dynamic scorer, but he has flashed some streaky scoring in the past. In fact, he had the first hat trick in the short history of the Prudential Center on October 31, 2007 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pandolfo scored eight goals in the 23 games he played before his injury. His plus/minus was a plus five in those 23 games. In the remaining 22 games he played after the injury, Pandolfo scored just four goals and while he played again at a plus five, Pandolfo did not seem to be the same player he was in the past.
In the playoffs against the New York Rangers, Pandolfo seemed to be invisible. A player who in the past was a finalist for the Selke Trophy and had noteworthy defensive accomplishments, Pandolfo was a non-factor, especially on the penalty kill, in a series the Devils lost in disappointing fashion. Now, I'm not trying to solely put the blame on Pandolfo by any means.
The three-year $7.5 million contract Pandolfo signed in the off-season is not looking like it was a worthwhile move by GM Lou Lamoriello. Perhaps there is an injury or other circumstances I am unaware of at the moment, but as of now, there really doesn't seem to be any part of Pandolfo's game that would be considered hard to replace right now, which makes him the prime candidate to be scratched from the lineup in favor of Brendan Shanahan.
The other candidates to sit are Mike Rupp, John Madden, or Dainius Zubrus, none of which seem like a good option to me. Rupp's physical ability and size would be dearly missed. John Madden takes a lot of faceoffs, and is still a better option defensively then Pandolfo at this point.
Dainius Zubrus is only listed here in the case that his apparent wrist injury would benefit from rest. I don't think his play merits his removal from the lineup, it only potentially would be an issue of his health for him to be removed from the lineup.
It will be interesting to see how well Brendan Shanahan plays tomorrow night (Monday) in Nashville, and to see if he still has the same scoring touch he's displayed throughout his career. The way I see it, there's only one logical candidate to be scratched from the lineup, and that's Jay Pandolfo. Let's see what Brent Sutter decides come Monday.