The New Jersey Devils have been struggling as of late and the defense is partially to blame. In four of the last seven games opponents have scored four or more goals. The penalty kill, the best in National Hockey League history a year ago at 89.6%, has also been atrocious. Opponents are 13 for 32 (59% penalty kill) in the last nine games on the man advantage.
The Devils’ next two games provide a golden opportunity to improve. The Winnipeg Jets are 16th in the league in scoring, averaging 2.74 goals per game, and the Buffalo Sabres are 22nd in the league averaging 2.45 goals per game. After that however, the league’s scoring leaders face off against the Devils. The Tampa Bay Lightning lead the league in scoring, netting 3.68 goals per game, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are ninth in the league averaging 2.85 goals per game.
I expect some changes to be made defensively for the Devils. I would like to see Peter Harrold on the ice. He has only played one game this season for the Devils and is a very versatile defenseman. I would also like to see the Devils dress struggling veteran, Henrik Tallinder, even if they have to dress seven defensemen. This would be a great time to call up Matt Taormina, a young and talented defenseman, but the Lightning signed him in the offseason.
One must also look at the play between the pipes for the Devils. With Martin Brodeur on injured reserve, Johan Hedberg will have to play much sharper. In his last three games, he has surrendered 14 goals. He needs to find his form from earlier in the season, in which he only gave up two goals in his first three games.
With all of this said, the Devils still deserve much credit. They hold a record of 10-5-4 and are currently in second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.
However, if the current state of the defense does not improve, it will cost the Devils more points in the standings. The team has had three days off following Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Let’s hope they’ve gotten sharper as they take the ice tonight to finish a home and home series at MTS Centre in Winnipeg.