New Jersey Devils Poised To Win Despite Injuries and Rough West Coast Trip

S BCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2010

4 Jun 2001: Patrik Elias #26 of the New Jersey Devils rushes the puck up ice against the Colorado Avalanche during game five of the Stanley Cup finals at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.  DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr/ALLSPORT
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The Devils dropped two in a row during a surprisingly rough West Coast swing that started Thursday in Phoenix and ended in Saturday in Colorado.

The Devils certainly started the season strong. They had a team record first half, earning 61 points in 41 games.

The Phoenix and Colorado games were part of a second-half trip that saw Devils' rookie Mark Fraser deflect a game-winning goal in on Devils' goalie Marty Brodeur in Phoenix, followed by Patrik Elias going down in Colorado.

Elias will be lost for an unknown amount of time to what is believed to be a concussion and whiplash.

Is this the end of the line for the Devils? Are they out of gas and out of luck? Will the team get killed in the second half of the season?

I'm not sure that they will be.

The loss of Elias is certainly bad news, and the fact that he's probably suffering a concussion could represent a long stretch without his services. But, Dainius Zubrus is believed to be close to returning, which will basically allow Zubrus to take Elias' spot in the lineup.

Defensemen Paul Martin and forward David Clarkson are believed to be closer to returning to action, with both said to be at least two weeks away.

That's still a long time, but when they do return, they'll be fresh at a time in the season when most players are pretty gassed.

In fact, the Devils' injuries might prove to be a blessing. They've thrived without key players, like Martin. When Martin, Clarkson, Zubrus, and Elias return, it'll represent a huge infusion of talent, like a trade, except one in which the Devils only get back strong players and don't have to give anyone up.

Speaking of trades, there's always the possibility the Devils will import some additional talent via a trade. The Devils have enough cap space to re-acquire someone like Petr Sykora who, at one-time, was a huge star for New Jersey. Sykora is now languishing in Minnesota, and the Wild would probably be perfectly unhappy to unload him, expecting very little in return.

While Sykora has lost a few steps over the years, he might find himself suddenly scoring more with a return to his former coach and his former team.

And coaching is another way the Devils can survive the second half. Despite coach Jacques Lemaire's reputation as a defensive maven who lives only to clog the neutral zone, he's run a relatively quick system in his return to New Jersey, using lots of stretch passes to keep the puck out of the Devils' own end.

The result is a Devils team with the second lowest goals against average in the league, but even more interesting, a Devils team that is also average 2.72 goals per game, 14th-best in the NHL.

What that means is Lemaire can actually slow things down, sacrificing some offense to compensate for tired players. He can take his foot off of the gas, offense-wise, and should continue to win games.

As always with the Devils, the big variable will be Brodeur and how he'll handle yet another season with an insane workload. We're on record as saying Brodeur needs more rest if he's going to be effective in the postseason.

With no known quantity in goal behind him, if Brodeur gets injured, the wins could very well end for the Devils.

But barring that, the Devils should continue to thrive the rest of the season. There are some injuries, but there are also some options, and options are what allow an NHL team to keep on winning.