Before I get going, I recommend checking out P&P’s midseason report card to get a feel for where we are at, before discussing where we are going.
That said, the Devils are amidst an awful run of play despite a shootout win on Sunday night. Two wins in eight games in two weeks is a lot to process, but it is not good any way you look at it. It’s even worse when you understand that all eight games we’re started by Devils backup Johan Hedberg, a 39 year old who has not started a long stretch of games in a long time; per Richard Chere of the Star Ledger, Hedberg has not started 10 games straight since 2002.
It’s very curious that Hedberg has been starting in net for the last eight with no relief, and questionable that coach Peter Deboer has become increasingly protective of his netminder, making a point after tough losses to assure the public that Hedberg would again be in net when the team resumed play. Some say insanity is defined as repeating the same action expecting a different result. I wouldn’t say that DeBoer is insane, but I won’t say he isn’t.
Listen, Hedberg is a gamer, and he isn’t a terrible goalie. He is not, though, the guy you need in need to help stop a losing streak. He simply does not make all the necessary saves to win a hockey game, and the Devils have suffered by conceding some less-than-inspiring goals (I won’t call them soft, because any and all efforts cannot be understated in this league). But one man does not lose a game himself, which is where things get sort of dicey.
I really have trouble poking holes in the Devils’ current play. Sure, they aren’t scoring, but I don’t expect them to get shut out every game. Key defensive breakdowns have contributed to bad goals, but on the whole they are not unable to get the puck into the offensive zone. So how did we end up here?
I think the answer is that every player, save Ilya Kovalchuk, who has been just about the only big positive on the Devils the last few weeks, has gone cold. Sure, most players should not be called out for playing poorly, but between Travis Zajac, Alexei Ponikarovsky, David Clarkson, Adam Henrique, the entire 3rd/4th/CBGB line have all been somewhat non-factors in recent weeks. I appreciate the hard work that new Devils Andrei Loktionov has given over the past few weeks, but he certainly cannot carry this team.
Defensively, Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, Adam Larsson, and to a lesser extent Marek Zidlicky and Henrik Tallinder have not been playing winning hockey. This tends to be even more apparent than poor forward play, especially right now, where the poor defensive play is highlighted, and a goal or two here and there can redeem what can be an awful offensive display.
David did a great job breaking down where the Devils’ special teams are at yesterday, so there is no need to inflict more pain talking about it. The only thing I have to say is that scoring shorthanded goals does not make having a terrible penalty kill any better, so the Devils don’t earn any merits in my book.
So I picked and chose all the scapegoats of the Devils’ recent spell of bad play, but as I said in the beginning, it doesn’t quite equal a bad team. The Devils continue to have talent, and continue to play well whenever it doesn’t matter, between mental lapses and bad passes that make all the difference. Really, the only major change since Dainius Zubrus went down early in the season is the loss of Martin Brodeur….so maybe it makes all the difference.
Thankfully I got some good news a few minutes ago; Brodeur is skating again. So begins the second half of a very dramatic season for the New Jersey Devils.