New Jersey Devils: Individual Report Cards at the Quarter Pole
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Twenty games have been played by the New Jersey Devils, and to say it's been anything but a disaster is to be pretty kind.
I don't think even Devils haters would've thought things could be this bad. Just five wins and two overtime losses, good for 12 points after 19 games. On top of that, with the talent assembled by GM Lou Lamoriello, it's unfathomable to think this team could have scored just a paltry 36 goals in those 20 games (a pathetic 1.8 goals per game).
No one else in the league is below 40 goals, and many other teams have played less games than the Devils. It's not like they have offset it with solid defense, either. Have the parts been as bad as the sum? I wouldn't be expecting too many A's on a team that is 5-13-2.
We'll take a look at each player, starting in the order of games played.
Jason Arnott (20 GP, 6 G, 4 A, 10 P, -9, 14 PIM, 15 hits, 2 blocks, 2 PPG, 1 PPA, 57 shots)
Arnott was brought in from Nashville in the offseason for Matt Halischuk and a second-round pick. While he does lead the team in goals, his overall play has not come close to expectations. The most disturbing number in his stat-line is the plus/minus, which is likely to be a common theme in this installment. It was hoped that Arnott would team with Patrik Elias to bring back memories of circa 2000 when they played together in winning a Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, the chemistry and effectiveness hasn't been nearly the same thus far. Grade: C-
David Clarkson (20 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 P, -9, 51 PIM, 34 hits, 4 blocks, 62 shots)
Clarkson has had his share of problems this year, as his skating ability, which never was a strength, seems to have regressed some, especially in terms of puck control. He has picked up his play of late, but he has a long way to go before he gets back to the level he was at before his nasty ankle injury last season. Clarkson signed a three-year deal for pretty good money, and he has to produce more to validate that contract. It's a bit surprising that Clarkson leads this team in shots on goal, which says a lot more about some of his teammates than it does about Clarkson. Grade: D
Patrik Elias (20 GP, 2 G, 10 A, 12 P, -8, 2 PIM, 12 hits, 1 block, 4 PPA, 1 GWG, 47 shots)
Elias leads the team in scoring but continues to have too many stretches of play where his play falls off. The reunification with Jason Arnott certainly has not lived up to expectations to the point where the two spent some time on separate lines. If this team is going to show signs of life, it's likely that Elias and Arnott will have to be a major part of it, especially on the power play. As I've always said, as Elias goes, the Devils go, and Elias has been far from his best. Grade: C-
Andy Greene (20 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 P, -12, 2 PIM, 14 hits, 51 blocks, 1 PPG, 2 PPA, 30 shots)
Boy, what a difference a year makes. Greene was far beyond anything anyone would've asked of him last year. Heading into his free agency year, there must have been visions of a big payday for Andy. Thus far, whether it's the pressure of being counted on, or something else, Greene has not been anywhere near the same player as he was last year. He is not enough of an offensive threat to overcome his lack of size and strength and warrant being a top pair defenseman. Greene needs to climb back towards the level of performance he showed last year. Grade: D
Rod Pelley: (20 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, -4, 17 PIM, 32 hits, 6 blocks, 24 shots)
For the fourth-line role he is being counted on for, Pelley has at times been the Devils' best forward. It's not to say he's been a superstar or anything, but he's filled the role you would hope for him, playing physical (third on the team in hits with 31) and adding a spark when he's playing. He's also helped kill penalties and dropped the gloves on occasion. If everyone on the team played to the best of their abilities with maximum effort like Pelley does, this team would be in a much better state of affairs. Grade: B
Henrik Tallinder (20 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 P, -9, 12 PIM, 22 hits, 15 blocks, 1 PPA, 1 SHG, 24 shots)
About as big a disappointment as you could have, Tallinder has shown practically nothing that one might have expected from him after a successful career with the Buffalo Sabres the past seven-plus seasons. For a player of his size and experience, he too often has found himself pushed of the puck and/or out of position. It isn't necessarily accurate, but it seems every time the Devils give up a goal, Tallinder is off to the side with his head down. Grade: F
Travis Zajac (20 GP, 2 G, 7 A, 9 P, +1, 6 PIM, 21 hits, 5 blocks, 1 SHA, 50 shots)
A player who has often been streaky in the past, Zajac hasn't really had a good solid offensive run as he has been known for in the past. It's a bit of a surprise that Zajac has been able to remain a plus player despite the struggles of the team offensively. It speaks volumes to the defensive abilities of Zajac, but at the same time, he needs to contribute more offensively. Grade: C
Dainius Zubrus (20 GP, 2 G, 7 A, 9 P, -7, 16 PIM, 28 hits, 6 blocks, 1 PPA, 1 SHA, 32 shots)
Zubrus is a tough player to get a read on. He isn't a glamorous type of player and will often leave you thirsty for more when he sometimes will show off skills he doesn't utilize enough. His size and effort add a good amount, but as I said, he often will want you to expect more. Two goals playing alongside the talent he has been for much of the year is simply not enough. Grade: C-
Ilya Kovalchuk (19 GP, 4 G, 6 A, 10 P, -10, 11 PIM, 7 hits, 1 PPG, 1 PPA, 2 GWG, 56 shots)
Where do you begin with the $100 million man? Sure, between the distractions he created with his contract, and his lateness to a meeting resulting in being benched for a game, Kovalchuk has certainly had his share of low points. Let's also not forget the embarrassing shootout "attempt" on November 10th against the Sabres. To be fair, he has had two overtime winning goals, including the winner on November 12th against Edmonton, one of the few team highlights to date. There need to be a lot more highs than lows for Kovalchuk as time moves forward for both him and the team. Part of the problem is clearly Kovalchuk trying to do too much, so it's hard to completely blame him, and because of his contract value, he definitely has received more blame than he deserves. At the same time, he needs to be produce a lot more. Grade: D
Colin White (19 GP, 0 P, +3, 12 PIM, 49 hits, 28 blocks, 16 shots)
Another tough guy to get a true read on, White has exceeded expectations a bit. Then again, the expectations may have been pretty low for him after his play the last few years. This year he's been mostly pretty solid, especially considering the play of many of his teammates. White at times has been one of the few physical presence the Devils have had this year, especially with significant injuries to the likes of Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov. Grade B-
Martin Brodeur (17 GP, 4-10-1, 919 minutes, 42 GA, 2.74 GAA, .900 SP, 2 SO)
Martin Brodeur is a player who has set the bar so high over his legendary career that it's almost impossible for him to be able to live up to expectations at the age of 38. The three-time Stanley Cup champion had a rough beginning to the season and definitely had some struggles, fitting in with the rest of the team-wide slump. He did add two shutouts to his all-time NHL record, but something has been a little off for much of the season. Whether it's because of health concerns like his recent elbow injury remains to be seen. Could Father Time be catching up with the living legend? Health issues aside, my guess is no, but it certainly can use a little bit of assurance to be sure. Grade: C-
Adam Mair (17 GP, 0 P, -4, 18 PIM, 20 hits, 3 blocks, 12 shots)
Mair was brought in for a training camp tryout with the Devils before being signed early in the regular season after some salary cap room opened up. Clearly, his loyalty shouldn't be questioned, but his production hasn't been too great, without having produced a point just yet. Sure, he does bring some physical play and adds some grit, but he definitely needs to at least add a little bit of offense to the mix, to occasionally take away some of the load from the top guys. Grade: C-
Matt Taormina (17 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 P, -2, 2 PIM, 12 hits, 22 blocks, 1 PPG, 38 shots)
A huge surprise in training camp, Taormina continued his rapid development after seemingly coming out of nowhere to shine with Lowell and head coach John MacLean in the AHL last year. While Taormina has shown some offensive ability from the backline, his lack of size has definitely impacted the team. Ideally, Taormina would probably be in Albany to further his development, but the Devils salary cap situation and injuries have forced their hand, and Taormina has definitlely been exposed at times. But is it truly fair to blame the rookie? Probably not. Grade: C
Jamie Langenbrunner (16 GP, 3 G, 6 A, 9 P, -6, 8 PIM, 14 hits, 7 blocks, 1 PPA, 1 GWG, 32 shots)
The captain of the Devils has certainly had his share of criticism in the last season or two, and to an extent it has been justified. After having his level of play fall off a bit towards the end of last season and into the playoffs, Langenbrunner has done very little to change that perception much, if at all. He, along with many of his teammates, hasn't had much luck on his side either, as it seems every time the team is in a position to turn things around, they've hit a new obstacle. Whether it's a new injury (such as Langenbrunner's neck injury) or a bad bounce or something else, it's pretty clear the Devils haven't really had a good run in them at all so far this season. Grade: D
Oliver Magnan (14 GP, 0 P, -4, 4 PIM, 20 hits, 14 blocks, 7 shots)
Another of the young defensemen the Devils have been forced to use due to injury, Magnan started off strong in his first couple of games before being exposed a bit. It's hard to blame him much because he's probably in a little over his head. There's little doubt that if the Devils had their choice, Magnan would be a regular in the minors, or a fringe NHLer at most, instead of his current role in the top six. Grade: C-
Zach Parise (12 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 6 P, -1, 6 PIM, 13 hits, 6 blocks, 1 PPA, 1 GWG, 47 shots)
An unfortunate knee injury that started in the offseason derailed Parise's season before it even really began. The torn meniscus is expected to force Parise to miss three months. The highlight of the season was easily Opening Night's first seven-plus minutes, and when Kovalchuk hit the post a little later, the entire team still has yet to recover. Parise did the best he could to play for as long as his knee could withstand, and it's a shame for the team that needed his abilities. But it wasn't meant to be, and for Parise, it could cost him some money with his pending restricted free agency. Most of all, his missing production and leadership has definitely created a void the Devils have been unable to fill. Grade: C-
Alexander Vasyunov (11 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 P, +2, 3 hits, 1 block, 12 shots)
A recent second-round pick for the Devils in 2006, Vasyunov was called up to help fill a hole on one of the top lines. He has added a little bit of a spark and seems to fit pretty well alongside fellow Russians Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus. Whether or not that line is able to stay together for the long haul remains to be seen, but Vasyunov has definitely shown enough that he seems to have a pretty good future, though he definitely isn't truly ready to play a top role yet either. Since he's been thrown into the fire a bit, it's curious to think if the experience is going to help or hinder his long-term development. Time will tell that story. Grade: B-
Matthew Corrente (9 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 P, -2, 35 PIM, 16 hits, 9 blocks, 9 shots)
One of three recent first-round picks of the Devils to come up from Albany this year, Corrente is going through a bit of an adjustment period. His aggressiveness and temper has definitely cost him at times, but overall, Corrente has been pretty good. It's a shame he's had to break in with one or even two other youngsters at times in the defensive lineup, which easily exposed a lack of experience. I don't envision Corrente to develop into a top-pairing type of player, but he should be able to be an NHL regular. Grade: C
Tim Sestito (9 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, -1, 16 hits, 1 block, 3 shots)
Sestito added a little bit of a spark and energy to the Devils but didn't add any real offensive threat. On a team that is playing to its capability offensively, Sestito might have been OK as the fourth-line center. On a team that hasn't averaged two goals a game, Sestito's energy alone was not something the Devils could afford to withstand, and compounded by the rule that had Sestito played a 10th game he would've had to clear waivers to be demoted, it clinched his demotion. Grade: C+
Anton Volchenkov (8 GP, 0 P, even, 6 PIM, 22 hits, 16 blocks, 13 shots)
The Devils brought Anton Volchenkov in during the off-season to anchor the defense. Before he got a true chance to begin fitting in, he got hit with a Nicklas Backstrom slap shot and missed 12 games at a crucial time when a defense with many new additions was trying to mesh together. If someone doesn't think his absence right off the bat didn't have a huge impact, they are kidding themselves. He must solidify the Devils backline and make the opponents fear his presence. Unfortunately, his nasty injury has eliminated 60 percent of the schedule for Volchenkov thus far and hasn't yet allowed Volchenkov to be the player we all were accustomed to seeing for many years in Ottawa. That should change soon. Grade: C-
Alexander Urbom (7 GP, 0 P, -3, 4 hits, 5 blocks, 3 shots)
At age 19, Alexander Urbom has shown flashes of talent to make the Devils think highly of what the future may hold for the 2009 third-round pick. However, his demotion to Albany was clearly the right move for his long-term development. He was definitely overmatched, but you have to look past that to what the future may hold, and also be happy that he has posted some good numbers thus far at the AHL level. Grade: C
Stephen Gionta (6 GP, 0 P, -1, 2 PIM, 8 hits, 4 blocks, 6 shots)
The brother of former Devil Brian Gionta, you can definitely see some similarities. Even though the same skill set may not be there, the work ethic is. Unfortunately, that only does so much, and Gionta is probably only at the NHL level because of injuries. I don't expect him to stay much longer, either. Grade: C
Johan Hedberg (6 GP, 1-2-1, 225 minutes, 17 GA, 4.53 GAA, .850 SP, 0 SO)
Hedberg was brought in to be the first bona fide legitimate “name” backup to Martin Brodeur in many years. He has been better of late, but started the season out awfully, especially his first start as a Devil on October 23rd against Buffalo, a game in which Hedberg was pulled in the second period after yielding four goals on just 15 shots. If the backup goalie cannot spell Marty effectively, it definitely eliminates his usefulness, especially on a team that is so up against the constraints of the salary cap. This two-week stretch or so that Brodeur will be out with his elbow injury will say a lot for Hedberg and his status going forward. Grade: D
Jacob Josefson (6 GP, 0 P, -2, 2 PIM, 2 hits, 1 block, 8 shots)
Josefson is the second of the three former Devil first-round picks to play this year, and even at the young age of 19, Josefson showed a lot of promise. While he did not produce much, he didn’t look out of place, either. A hand injury has derailed his development, but it will be interesting to see how he does once he returns, and ultimately whether or not he remains at the NHL level for good or goes to the AHL for more seasoning (rehab games aside). Grade: Incomplete
Brian Rolston (6 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 P, -2, 2 PIM, 7 hits, 2 blocks, 12 shots)
Rolston suffered a sports hernia injury that created temporary salary-cap relief but derailed what many were hoping would be a fresh start for a player who struggled in the first two seasons of his return to the Devils. He seemed to have a little bit more of jump in his game, and it's curious to think of what might have been without the injury. Grade: Incomplete
Mattias Tedenby (5 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 P, -1, 4 PIM, 2 hits, 1 block, 1 PPG, 18 shots)
The third of the first-round picks, Mattias Tedenby has jumped in and definitely has not looked overmatched, scoring two pretty goals that showed off his skills, in just five games. He has to develop more strength and seasoning as an NHLer, but that will come with experience. It’s just five games, but I definitely think the future is very bright for him. He could be the type of guy to give the team a lift if his strong play continues over the long haul. Grade: B
Tyler Eckford (4 GP, 0 P, -1, 3 hits, 2 blocks, 1 shot)
Mark Fraser (4 GP, 0 P, 9 PIM, 5 hits, 5 blocks, 3 shots)
Brad Mills (4 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, +1, 5 PIM, 7 hits, 2 blocks, 6 shots)
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (2 GP, 0 P, -2, 21 PIM, 3 hits)
Mike McKenna (1 GP, 0-1-0, 60 minutes, 3 GA, 3.00 GAA, .890 SP)
All of these guys have not played enough to merit a grade.
Unfortunately, it’s been a rough start to say the least for the Devils thus far. Hopefully, the second quarter of the season will be more kind to the team, beginning tonight as they host Washington.
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