Being that the Devils are at the half-way point of the season (OK, a couple games past it but cut us some slack), we decided to do some "grades" for this team. Originally, this was supposed to be one full post, but after compiling them, it seems better to break them up into different pieces today. First up, the forwards.
(Disclaimer: All "grades" articles are usually entirely too general and tend to omit more detail than normal, so apologies in advance if we left a player out.)
Corey: I started to write this Monday, but came down with the flu and after several attempts at medicine-induced blabbering I decided to wait until the fog cleared slightly. Then, Pete DeBoer said something at today’s skate that I think pretty much sums up the entire forward unit:
Isn’t that pretty much the biggest indictment of this unit thus far? It starts with Ilya Kovalchuk, who has a shot unlike 97 percent of the NHL, yet prefers to play the “puppet master” role with the Devils, sitting back, controlling the play and looking to set up his teammates. That’s all well and good, but at some point, the Devils need him to shoot more. I know Kovy is in the top 10 in shots on goal, but how often do you finish a game and go, “Man, I think Kovy really took advantage of all the opportunities he had tonight.” I don’t say this to bash the man, but rather to point out a larger problem in this forward unit – they’re far too unselfish. Yes, there are playmakers on this team, namely Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique, but guys like David Clarkson and specifically Travis Zajac need to put the puck on net more. Clarkson was all about it the first few weeks of the season, but has gone away from it since then. Zajac, on the other hand, is either gripping his stick too tight or simply has forgotten how to shoot. I have no worries about them figuring it out – they’re both talented players and good goal scorers. They will figure it out eventually, but this is a review process and through the first half of the season, their absentee goal scoring is a big reason why the Devils have struggled for the past three weeks.
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the bottom six, which is perhaps as much of a mixed bag as the top six but for different reasons. Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier have been revelations this season, both scoring at near-career paces while providing sound defense regardless of their line partners. Stephen Gionta picked up right where he left off in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs and has even seen time on the top line. The pieces of the CBGB line have been solid to strong regardless of where they’ve been placed. The fourth line, however, is where things falter. Stefan Matteau has been basically invisible for much of the season and I still believe he’s out of place in the NHL. They’ve done him no favors by burying him on the fourth line most nights along a rotating cast of characters (Krys Barch, Jacob Josefson, Matt Anderson, Andrei Loktionov). … GRADE: C+
Pat: I remember listening to Sherry Ross on WFAN’s Devils telecast back in February, and she said that Zubrus would be a terrible loss— not statistically but intangibly.
The Devils are 4-7-2 without Zubrus in the lineup and are averaging 2.15 goals-per game without him.
David Clarkson’s hot start— he scored 10 goals in 14 games— was welcome early on, Ilya Kovalchuk’s been hot and cold. Patrik Elias apparently doesn’t age— his 25 points are tops on the team.
Obviously, the Devils were better offensively early on. The Adam Henrique-Elias-Clarkson line was on fire early on— now that trio doesn’t even play together. Such is the fickle nature of hockey. New Jersey’s 65 goals are second-fewest of any East playoff team— and only 10th-best in the entire conference— and Clarkson’s not scored in 11 games.
Still, It could be worse. ... GRADE: C