New Jersey Devils: 5 Doubts We Still Have About the Devils

Peter MillsContributor IIIFebruary 12, 2013

New Jersey Devils: 5 Doubts We Still Have About the Devils

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    The New Jersey Devils are off to their best start in franchise history. At 8-2-3, they are tops in the Atlantic Division, tops in the Eastern Conference and currently sit tied with Anaheim for second in the league in points, behind only the Chicago Blackhawks.

    With everything going right, there's not too much to complain about for Devils fans. But as any fan of sports knows, things can change in a second.

    Are the Devils really the best team in the East? Are they going to be competing for the Cup again? Here are five doubts still out there about the New Jersey Devils.

Is Devils Goaltending Going to Stay Elite?

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    The Devils goalie tandem has been spectacular so far this season. Martin Brodeur is 6-2-2 with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. Johan Hedberg has been even better, going 2-0-1 with a .65 GAA and a .973 save percentage. Simply put, the duo has been dynamite.

    And that's where the doubts begin: This goalie tandem is a combined 79 years old. Both goalies have had long, consistent careers, but they are both nearing the end of their respective careers.

    Moose has been playing as well as he can, and Marty hasn't been too far behind. One of the only complaints you could make is that Brodeur's passing this year has been sloppier and more risky than it has in the past.

    So what happens when they stop playing up to their ability? What happens when one or, God forbid, both of them start to under-perform?

    Some people say winning the Stanley Cup is all about getting hot at the right time. Well, the Devils goaltenders have started the season hot and at some point, they're going to need to slow down. What happens at that point is still very much up in the air.

Will Bottom-6 Forwards Start Producing?

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    The Devils have had some brilliant offensive play this season, most notably from David Clarkson. Behind the nine-goal scorer, though, Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk have also both been playing great hockey.

    Unfortunately, the Devils have gotten very little out of their bottom-six forwards. The New Jersey Devils have so far scored 35 goals. Of those, nine have been from the first line and 16 have been from the second line. Taking out the three goals scored by defensemen, that leaves just seven goals that have been scored by the third and fourth lines.

    A few players have stuck out as possible scorers: Steve Bernier has three goals so far this season, and Bobby Butler has managed a goal and an assist through just five games. Whether these players will emerge as legitimate talents remains to be seen. And unfortunately, as long as Krys Barch, Jacob Josefson, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta continue to score minimally (if at all), the Devils seem doomed to continue seeing little production from their backups.

Will the Devils Ever Become a Competent Faceoff Team?

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    For years, the Devils have been near the bottom of the league in faceoffs. Last year, they were the second-worst team in the league. This year, they've improved to fourth worst.

    Travis Zajac is developing into an elite faceoff man, and that's excellent. His win percentage has been near 60 percent all season and he's won some key draws.

    The problem is that after him, there really isn't an attractive option. Adam Henrique did moderately well in his rookie year, but is at only 42,1 percent this season. Jacob Josefson, who takes nearly a fifth of the team's faceoffs, wins just 44.3 percent of the time, which is significantly better than Patrik Elias' 41 percent or Stephen Gionta's 33 percent.

    Zajac will presumably remain a good option, but until the Devils find at least a second player they can depend on in the faceoff circle, they're going to be leaving a lot of important draws up to chance.

Who Is Playing Defense?

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    The New Jersey Devils have a very strong group of defensemen. At least eight players under contract are capable of playing defense at the NHL level, and a few are capable of being stars. The main problem is inconsistency.

    Fans can probably assume that Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky will remain the Devils' top two offensive defenders. They can probably also assume that Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador will remain the shut-down defensemen.

    But what about Adam Larsson or Henrik Tallinder? Each of them has played under ten games, with Tallinder becoming a healthy scratch in recent games. Larsson has looked good as his replacement, but as a young sophomore, his play will likely remain inconsistent.

    Mark Fayne has played in 11 games, but his unimpressive numbers could mean a scratch for him at any time. And Peter Harrold has only dressed for one game, but he showed what kind of play he's capable of in last season's playoff run.

    Right now, it's just a bit confusing. The real doubts will come if any Devils start seriously under-performing. The last thing the Devils need is a situation where multiple D-men don't know if they'll even be dressed for that night's game, and all it would take is a couple slumping skaters for that to happen.

    Ideally, at some point soon, a regular defensive squad will emerge as reliable and capable. So far, that has not yet happened.

Will the Devils Miss Zach Parise?

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    After last season, the New Jersey Devils lost Zach Parise. Parise was the team's captain and arguably its best player. He skated in all situations, never gave less than 100 percent effort and showed why he has some of the best hands in the league.

    Clearly, his absence hasn't been felt too much so far. With David Clarkson's emergence as an elite goal scorer, there hasn't been too much to worry about. This is especially true since Elias, Henrique and Kovalchuk have been contributing so much.

    But what happens if—and really, inevitably, when—Clarkson stops netting pucks every game? Is Kovy going to suddenly remember how to score 50 goals a season? Right now, he seems much happier playing a setup role in New Jersey.

    Parise has the potential to be one of the game's best players, and it's almost unthinkable that the Devils wouldn't end up missing his abilities. So the question then becomes when. When will the Devils need the extra ability that unfortunately signed with Minnesota? Or if they can't obtain it, will they survive without it?

    The Devils have been scary good recently—that's undeniable. Now the question is, how long they can keep it up, and what happens to them when they stop?