Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Mark Fayne and Henrik Tallinder have both stepped up their games to minimze chances against and helping to get more offensive chances.
The New Jersey Devils gave up 129 goals against in the first half of the season, an average of 3.15 goals per game, and that does not take into account any goals generated in the shootout. In the last 18 games, the Devils have yielded just 31 goals, an average of just 1.72 goals against per game.
And while you can look at the obvious answers of Jacques Lemaire's return, or the firing of John MacLean as the easy reasons, it definitely goes deeper than that. For one thing, you've had a little bit more consistency back there, in terms of the guys in the lineup each night. The current group of six defenseman (Anton Volchenkov, Colin White, Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder, Mark Fayne and Anssi Salmela) have built some good teamwork during this streak and work together real well.
Volchenkov has been a rock, showing off his ability to both block shots and hit people. Colin White has been a steady presence on the backline, adding some toughness and helping to shut down opponents. Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder have both done a complete reversal of their first half production, as they have helped on both sides of the ice. Anssi Salmela has been up and down, but the rest of the team has helped cover up some of his mistakes, while Salmela has done a better job of limiting those mistakes overall.
The real surprise and help to the defense has been the breakout of Mark Fayne, who basically has come out of nowhere to help stabilize the Devils' defense.
Paired mostly with Henrik Tallinder during the last 18 games (Fayne only played 17), Fayne's statline is impressive, posting one goal, five assists and six points, with a plus-13 rating and 20 shots on goal over this time. Fayne has helped on both sides of the ice, including spending time as the power play QB (mostly on the second unit).
Not to get too ahead of ourselves, but Fayne's best asset he has shown thus far is the ability to get his shot on net from the point, something that isn't as easy to do as it might sound. In the last two games, Mark Fayne has eight shots on goal (four in each game), and this ability (granted its still a small sample) reminds me of Brian Rafalski. Keep in mind, I am not saying Mark Fayne is Brian Rafalski overall, just in this once facet of the game. They can't be the same player, as their size difference is night and day, plus Rafalski's speed as a skater was much better at his peak than Fayne's speed today.
All that being said, the Devils appear to have found something with their fifth round pick from 2005, and Fayne has been a very pleasant surprise, considering last season, he was playing at Providence College, and now he's having success at the NHL level. Who saw that coming, and more importantly, who saw that coming this quickly?