New Jersey Devils: Start-of-Season Grades
The 2011-2012 season is off and running and the New Jersey Devils are off to a very relieving good start. It’s time for an early progress report for this squad. Keep in mind that the season is still in its infancy, but it never hurts to take a look at what we have already learned from the Devils' first batch of games.
The home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers was one to forget for the Devils. The silver lining in the 3-0 debacle was the play of Hall of Fame netminder Martin Brodeur, who made saves reminiscent of the ones he would make regularly during his years of Stanley Cup Championships and league-wide dominance.
Unfortunately, in the third game of this still very young season, Brodeur stood on his head during a wild first period against the Los Angeles Kings and as a result of a diving stop injured his shoulder.
Enter Johan Hedberg. The 38-year-old back up goaltender has posted a 3-0-0 record, including two shootout wins along with a 1.41 goals against average and .945 save percentage in place of the injured Brodeur.
The combination of play between these two veteran netminders has given the Devils a hot start to the season, including an early three-game win streak. If Brodeur can get healthy and return to form, this duo, a combined whopping 77 years of age, could continue to frustrate opposing snipers for the remainder of the season and possibly the playoffs.
The Devils’ defense was absolutely deplorable last year. Not only could last year’s squad not keep the puck out of their own net, they were of no help on the offensive side of the ice. New Jersey was a catastrophic mess on the blue line in 2010-2011.
This year with the addition of fourth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Adam Larsson, a healthier squad, and a new system under coach Peter Deboer, the Devils look solid on the back end.
The Devils have gotten their wins by grinding out one or two goal leads and protecting them with trap schemes until the final buzzer sounds, a game plan reminiscent of the style executed during the championship era of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.
Admittedly the season is still in its infancy, but it is by no means a stretch to say that this Devils defense is much improved and only going to get better with experience.
The 2011-2012 Devils are showing signs that they are going to continue their scoring woes from 2010-2011, a season in which New Jersey finished dead last in the NHL in goals per game by no small margin. The good news is that so far the team’s two best players in Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk have been able to produce in the clutch and win games by themselves.
Yes, I enjoy watching this dynamic duo make fools out of the best goalies in the league during shootout wins as much as the next Devils fan, but secondary scoring is going to become an issue for this team if supporting players like Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, and David Clarkson continue to fail to produce.
Parise and Kovalchuk cannot be expected to be stellar game in and game out and carry the team on their backs for sixty minutes and beyond just to keep the Devils competitive. Sometimes the opposing team will be able to shut down the Devils’ stars, which is precisely why other capable players will need to step up in those situations and create more offensive chances.
If Parise and Kovalchuk can continue to produce at their current level and the rest of the squad picks up the slack when they are unable to do so, the Devils will be in good shape moving forward. As of right now, the Devils offense is far too reliant on the talents of two extraordinary players.