As the New Jersey Devils fight to stay in the playoffs, their injuries and lack of scoring have made an already well-known fact painfully obvious – the Devils lack shooters. With the departure of Zach Parise, one of their two most gifted goal scorers, the Devils are left with really only one “shooter” in Ilya Kovalchuk. For those who may be confused, I’m defining a shooter as someone who has a gifted shot, not just a goal scorer. Sure, David Clarkson has proven he can put the puck in the net, and Patrik Elias had more points last season than Parise, but the Devils have no one that can shoot the puck with Kovalchuk out nursing a shoulder injury. For all of the good passing and moves the Devils have, the lack of shooting leads to many wasted opportunities.
One of my favorite seasons as a Devils fan was the 2005-2006 season, because we got to see one of the best “Little Engine That Could” type of seasons of all time. Brian Gionta, who is listed at 5’7”, but I assure you is not even that on a good day, managed to score 48 goals. There’s no doubt his hustle and tenacious play in front of the net had a lot to do with it, but even more so was the ability for the defensemen to throw the puck on net. The Devils’ scoring struggles are a constant reminder that the days of Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin and Scott Neidermeyer are long gone. Now, Devils fans must watch the undersized Andy Greene, who admittedly was having a strong season, and Marek Zidlicky, who seems to forget he is a defenseman half the time, try to provide what those three great players once did from the blue-line. It was thought that Adam Larsson, who was highly regarded for his offensive play in Sweden, would provide a bit of a boost but he can’t even stay in the lineup (a decision I disagree with but that’s another story…). I can only hope that Larsson can provide what we all hoped, and young prospects like offenseman-turned-defenseman Eric Gelinas can come up and provide an offensive youth movement for a stagnant, and nameless Devils blue-line.
Then, there is the pathetic offense in New Jersey, which at this point has come to be expected by fans. The Devils haven’t been a particularly high scoring team for a while, but this seems to be a new low. Kovalchuk’s injury has proven how many secondary scorers and how few big shots the Devils have. Fans like to hype names like Clarkson, Henrique, and Zajac but the truth is they don’t possess the offensive abilities to be premier scorers in the NHL. Clarkson came into the league as a fighter, and his wraparound move has been identified and shut down by opposing defenders, rendering him useless during this scoring drought in New Jersey; for whatever reason, his presence in front of the net has been non-existent lately – his scoring streak seems to have gone to his head and made him forget how to score the gritty goals. Henrique is experiencing the common sophomore slump, but that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t possess any eye opening offensive skills. Zajac has been exposed by the departure of Parise and Langenbrunner, the two key components to what was once one of the most successful lines for the Devils. Without scorers like Kovalchuk, the post-Brodeur era promises to be dark days for the Devils and their fans. In order to turn the team around for next season, which happens to possibly be the last for Martin Brodeur, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello needs to add some strong shots that are taller than 6’0” to add some potency and size to a struggling Devils offense.
Future Rumblings: Watch out for standout prospects Reid Boucher, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas, all of whom have offensive talent but currently lack the full skill set to play in the NHL.