Head coach Peter DeBoer has maintained strict control of the Devils since his hiring last season. Does he have an answer for issues facing the team today? Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports. June 6, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA

Bad Timing Crushed Devils Monday, Could Have Lasting Impact

The New Jersey Devils lost a hard fought game to the Ottawa Senators on Presidents Day Monday afternoon, and have no one to blame but themselves. In a vacuum, the loss is a result of a few unfortunate circumstances, and all things considered, the Devils should go home with a point and be happy. It is certainly fair, though, to examine the potential for this game to loom large over the rest of the Devils season.

Three major occurrences contributed to the Devils downfall against Ottawa:

1. The injury to Ryan Carter

2. The misconduct penalty levied on David Clarkson

3. Peter Deboer’s decision to put Ilya Kovalchuk first in the shootout

The injury to Carter has the most clear impact, as he has almost certainly sustained a concussion and may miss some time with the team. For a team that has already lost a top six forward, having to break up their most cohesive line can have a devastating effect on the third line’s effectiveness. Concussions are also one of the toughest injuries for a hockey player, where recovery is not exactly simple…..just ask Sidney Crosby. With enough luck, though, Carter can move past the injury and miss minimal time. The other two issues are much more worrying.

Clarkson has made his way though the early years of his career as a bruising, hot headed player who straddles the line between scoring forward and goon. He has obviously moved further toward the ‘scoring forward’ end of the spectrum with 10 goals in 16 games, but doing so with the same hard-nosed techniques of crashing the net and causing havoc in front of the goalie. He remains hot headed and somewhat reckless, with 35 PIM vs. a total 279 minutes on ice (breaks down to an average of one 2 minute minor penalty for every 16 minutes on ice, for a guy averaging 17:26 minutes per game).

He earned a game misconduct for getting a bit too testy in a scrum toward the end of regulation on Monday, causing him to miss the rest of the game (the 10 minute penalty was greater than both the 13 seconds remaining in regulation and the 5 minute overtime, eliminating him from shootout participation). Chris Neil faced the same fate, but Chris Neil is not his team’s most potent scorer. If Clarkson continues to take bad penalties and put himself in positions where teams can take advantage of his composure or lack thereof, he could create real problems for the team when they need offense.

Finally, the Ilya Kovalchuk conundrum. Kovalchuk has consistently led the Devils in ice time this season, as any $100 million  man should. He takes the double shifts because he is the most effective player on the ice. But after playing the majority of the overtime period against the Senators, he could barely breathe. As time wore down and Pete DeBoer had to choose who would represent his Clarkson-and-Carter-less team in the shootout, he elected to put Kovalchuk up first, with Elias and former Senator Bobby Butler behind him.

The Butler decision is curious, but DeBoer defended himself saying it was a gut decision, which he is entitled to make. But to look at Kovalchuk panting on the bench and sending him right back out there to make a shot that requires a lot of focus is questionable, to say the least, and irresponsible at its worst. Nobody scored for the Devils, and one was enough as Jakob Silfverberg gave Ottawa a Family Day gift (Family Day is a Canadian holiday celebrated on Monday). Kovalchuk will continue to take the bulk of the extra shifts, duty that may increase as injuries pile up. Time will tell what that means to the Devils come playoff time, but it likely won’t be good.

Please don’t take this the wrong way: the Devils have played remarkably consistent hockey this season, Martin Brodeur continues to look incredible, and Andrei Loktionov enters today looking much better than he did Monday morning when Devils fans did not know what to expect. But these issues are staring the Devils in the face, and they may not be the most apparent, and they do not go away whether they win or lose this weekend in Washington.

Just some food for thought.

Tags: New Jersey Devils

  • Harris

    I will leave comment, hopefully it works this time unlike last time. I will address your points in the same order you did.

    1. Ryan Carter- As great as that line has been as far as chemistry goes they are limited. I would like to have Carter in the lineup but i do not think this is as bad as you are making it seem. Yes the concussion can take time to heal but this might give a chance for someone else to get a chance at some quality minutes. Josefson has been good in the defensive end just not able to find that offensive side and playing with Gionta and Bernier that has to be better for him than playing with Barch. Or this will call for Deboer to do a complete reshuffle of lines.

    2. Clarkson- Trade him. I have been saying it for years, a few years ago I would have been happy with a bag of pucks, now he actually has value. Unless Lou can get him to sign for under $5 mill a year he is not worth it at all and can really help in a trade. He takes WAY to many bad penalties, and they are down this year compared to years past. He is an absolute liability in the defensive end which is why he has to play with Elias if not he just looks really bad. TRADE HIM

    3. Kovalchuk- Having him shoot first is the best scenario. He is a pure sniper, maybe the best in the NHL. Every so often he is going to miss the net, it happens to even the best. The biggest problem is the Devils have absolutely no one besides him that has that killer instinct to score. That is why the Devils need to make a real trade.

    I encourage and would not be shocked if the Devils are involved in a fairly large deal around or even weeks before the deadline.

    PS. This website is very poorly designed as far as leaving comments. It should say you have to log in before posting because it deletes everything you have already typed when you go to login.