Tootoo Injury can lead to Devils fixing Fourth Line


After suffering an injury Tuesday against the Rangers, it has been reported via twitter that Jordin Tootoo will not be playing Friday or Saturday night. As unfortunate as this injury may be, this may give New Jersey the opportunity to fix its struggling fourth line. 

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Coming into this week, the Devils have gotten barely any production from its bottom unit. The original combination of Tuomo Ruutu, Stephen Gionta, and Jordin Tootoo have managed only a point between the three of them in the first 5 games of the season, thanks to a Ruutu tip-in goal against the Panthers.

This proved to be a real issue when New Jersey’s offense began to slide last week. Unable to maintain the hot start of 5.5 goals a game in week one, the Devils averaged 2 goals a game in week 2.

Against the Washington Capitals, Martin Havlat suffered a serious facial injury. The damage was so serious that it prevented him from returning against the Capitals and playing at all against the Sharks. As easy as it would be to blame the top-6 winger being out for the lack of scoring, what has hurt the Devils’ offense more has been their fourth line.

On average, the Devils’ bottom line is on the ice for about 8 minutes a game. Those 8 minutes are completely wasted if they continuously send out a unit that does even pose a threat to produce offensively.

Dec 10, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; New Jersey Devils center Damien Brunner (12) controls the puck during the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Columbus defeated New Jersey 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Realizing this, DeBoer inserted Damien Brunner, who had been a healthy scratch for New Jersey first four games, for Tuomo Ruutu Tuesday night. He finally got his chance to play in the Devils’ home opener for Martin Havlat, and proved that if given time on the ice, he can produce some quality offensive opportunities. Seeing the spark he could bring to the Devils’ offense, he was assigned to start on their most depleted line.

As we as saw on Tuesday, Brunner can produce. In his twelve minutes on the ice, He tallied 2 brilliant power play assists, sparking a unit who only converted on 10% of their opportunities last week. However during his 5v5 play, Brunner’s line-mates combined for mere 2 shots on net.This constant lack of production however should not be on newly inserted Damien Brunner as much as it should be on regulars Stephen Gionta and Jordin Tootoo.

So why are these guys still in the line-up? Stephen Gionta has been one of the Devils’ go-to players on the PK, while Tootoo has been labeled as the team’s enforcer. For six games now the Devils have settled with these two players being on the ice because of their “labels”, while having better offensive quality players have to sit. However, now with both Tootoo out and Havlat’s injury forcing him to sit again, the Devils have a chance to add more offensive potential to their bottom line.

Havlat’s injury will promote Brunner to the second line along side Patrik Elias and opposite Mike Cammalleri, leaving two slots open on the Devils’ fourth line. Tuomo Ruutu and Jacob Josefson will be called upon to play on the bottom unit centered by Stephen Gionta, creating one of them most offensive talented lines the Devils have constructed all season. By no means is this the most talented line DeBoer could assemble on the bottom of his forwards roster, but should be strong enough to pose a threat to the opposition.

Apr 10, 2014; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Marc Methot (3) and New Jersey Devils right wing Tuomo Ruutu (15) battle for the puck in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators defeated the Devils 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Ruutu has always been a player who can score. This will be his 11th year in the league, and before this year, he has posted a points per game average above 0.5 in more than half of them. He has not got proper time or surrounding players to prove himself this season but was brought here to score and needs to be given a chance. A nice couple of games here could force DeBoer to keep him on the ice when both regulars come back from injury. A bottom line with Tuomo Ruutu and Damien Brunner would out match any bottom line the play this season in offensive talent.

Josefson is a huge mystery. Like Adam Larsson, he is seen to have great potential but has not fulfilled these expectations. These two games could be make or break for the young forward. Scott Gomez is still practicing with the team, and if Josefson cannot prove to be more valuable than Gomez, a move may be made. Josefson needs to show his offensive worth this weekend and produce a few quality opportunities.

Overall, if the Devils can look to make there fourth line more of a threat to score, it would benefit the team exponentially. A minute or two more DeBoer can rely on them a game, those are less minutes to send the top lines guys out, which may be valuable later in the season. Whether its Brunner, Ruutu, Josefson, or even Gomez, New Jersey has the pieces to make this possible. This short time which DeBoer cannot use Tootoo, he should be focused on find the best combination of these players that creates offense for a team that cannot spare missing out on any opportunity. The Devils will not blow teams out of the water with their top 9, like a Chicago or Anaheim team can, so why not try to make their fourth line another scoring threat?

Im sure I will never hear a day where a Devils’ fan complains that we are too focused on our offense!

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