We are here at Peerless Central joined by a very special and, as it turns out, timely guest. Hockey is a sport that has an all too often unfortunate by-product of injuries to its players, and no team has had more misfortune land on it than tonight’s opponent, the New Jersey Devils. And who better to diagnose the problem than the eminent diagnostician, Dr. Gregory House of the Princeton‑Plainsboro Teaching Hospital here in New Jersey. Dr. House, welcome.
“My life is just one horror after another.”
Well, speaking of horror, this season has been one horror after another for the Devils as well.
“A biker gang?”
No, hockey team. They play in Newark.
“And you wonder why their season has been a horror?”
Be that as it may, the Devils are having what looks to be an epidemic of injuries. Zach Parise, Martin Brodeur, Jamie Langenbrunner…
“Are these real names, or are you making them up?”
No, they are real hockey players with real injuries, but the question is, why so many in so short a time on one team? Can you shed any light on this, Dr. House?
“Well, we would have to conduct a battery of tests to try to identify the likely problem, which we will then dismiss in favor of more tests 30 minutes later, then stumble upon the cause when two of my lackeys go through their locker room to find some unpronounceable bug when no one is around.”
I see. Well, what sort of tests are we talking about here?
“We could perform a blood urea nitrogen test, an erythrocyte sedimentation rate test, a radionucleotide cisternogram, a visual evoked potential test, and a technetium sestamabi, for starters.”
Are these real tests, or are you making them up?
We might never get an answer to that question, so let’s get on with the game at hand. The Capitals will travel to Newark tonight to take on the Devils, although many of the players that will take the ice for the home team do not resemble what we have come to know over the last decade and a half as “The Devils.” Already the Devils have dressed 28 skaters this season, including such as Alexander Vasyunov, Stephen Gionta (not to be confused with his older brother and former Devil Brian Gionta), Olivier Magnan, Bradley Mills, and Tyler Eckford. Injuries and poor performance have combined to leave the Devils gasping for air at the bottom of the league standings, a place they share with the punch line of the league these days, the New York Islanders. Overall, their numbers look like this (have the children leave the room before reading on)…
Here is how bad it is for the Devils. Through 20 games they have scored a total of 36 goals. Last season – one in which the Devils finished 19th in total scoring – they scored 52 goals in their first 20 games. A 31 percent drop off in scoring is bad enough, but the defense. Oh, the defense. So far it has allowed 64 goals in 20 games. Last season the Devils did not allow their 64th goal until Game 30. At the moment New Jersey is allowing more than a full goal per game (3.20) more than they did through 20 games last season (2.15). How bad has it been overall? Well…
-- The Devils have not won consecutive games yet this season, but
-- They have three losing streaks of three games (including their current predicament)
-- The Devils scored fewer than two goals in ten of their first 15 games.
-- They have scored more than three goals in regulation only twice in 20 games.
-- They have allowed more than five goals twice. They didn’t allow any team more than five goals in a game last season.
-- They have only six power play goals for the season (only one in 39 chances on the road). By way of comparison the Caps have 11 power play goals this month.
-- The Devils’ leading scorer (Patrik Elias) has 12 points. Alexander Semin has 15 points in November. Alex Ovechkin, who has had a less-than-Ovechkinesque month, has 13 points this month.
-- The Devils’ leading goal-getter (Jason Arnott) has six goals. Semin has eight in November.
-- Mike Green (5-8-13) – a defenseman who has played in only 18 of 21 games – would lead the Devils in scoring with his total.
-- Only one Devil is on a pace for as many as 20 goals (Jason Arnott). Only two are on a pace for as many as 15 (Ilya Kovalchuk being the other).
-- The Devils have been shut out in three of eight games this month.
It’s been brutal on offense, perhaps no more so than on defense, though. It is little wonder why the Devils have struggled on the defensive side of the ledger, given that they have already dressed 10 defensemen this season (only two have played in all 20 games) and three goaltenders.
Lost in the wreckage of the season so far is the performance of Ilya Kovalchuk. And here is how bad that has been – he is on a pace for a 17-26-43, minus-43 season. He has one goal this month (one in his last 11 games, in fact). He has had one multi-point game since October 15th. In those 14 games he is 2-3-5, minus-9. And he is the third-leading scorer for New Jersey. His four goals and six assists total is matched on the Caps by the four goals and six assists of – drum roll please – Jason Chimera.
More was expected of Ilya Kovalchuk, and he has a bank safe of pressure on his back (to carry that $100 million contract) weighing him down. But more might have been expected of Travis Zajac, too. After registering 60-plus point seasons in each of the last two years, Zajac might have been expected to take the next step forward in his career development. Instead, he is stuck at 2-7-9 through 20 games (although he is one of four players on the team on the plus side of the ledger at plus-1). Of those two goals, only one has come since opening night, and he is on a six-game streak without one.
By current Devils standards, Jason Arnott is an offensive juggernaut. That’s what three goals in November means to a team that has only 16 in eight games this month. But those three goals represent Arnott’s grand total over his last 13 games. His six goals for the season is as many as Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus combined.
Speaking of Zubrus, he has two goals. That total ranks him seventh on the club this year, but it puts him on a pace to finish with eight tallies. That would be his lowest total for a full season since the 1998-1999 season when he had six split evenly with Philadelphia and Montreal.
With Martin Brodeur out resting his elbow for the next couple of weeks, the Devils’ goaltending situation is nothing short of a mess. Not that Brodeur was having a “Brodeur” sort of year. His 2.74 GAA, were he to finish with that number, would be higher than in any season since he got a four-game look and see in 1992 (3.36). His save percentage of .901 would be the lowest since that same season.
But with Marty on the sideline, well, welcome to the future Devils fans. It is coming faster than you all might like. In Brodeur’s place for the time being we have our first contestant, Johan Hedberg. At the moment, Hedberg is 1-2-1, 4.53, .855 in six appearances. He has one appearance in which his save percentage was over .900, two in which it was below .800. This is not a long-term solution.
Then we have Mike McKenna. No, not the Canadian musician, but the goalie from St. Louis, MO. He had his baptism this season in the Devils’ last game, coincidentally played in McKenna’s hometown. He lost to the Blues, 3-2, stopping 24 of 27 shots. He has, however, seen the Caps before. Three times, in fact, all in the 2008-2009 season with Tampa Bay. They were not pleasant memories. In the first he lasted 20 minutes, allowing three goals on 12 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Caps. Giving up goals to each of the Alexes is one thing, but he also allowed Shaone Morrisonn to rustle the twine. In the second he lasted all 60 minutes, but he did give up five goals on 30 shots in a 5-2 loss, including the next to last goal Michael Nylander would score for the Caps. His last appearance featured allowing four goals on 38 shots in a 5-3 loss, including Brian Pothier’s first goal in 15 months.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New Jersey: Anton Volchenkov
Volchenkov played 6:21 into his second game as a Devil when he has his nose broken on a shot by Nicklas Backstrom in the first meeting of these teams. He missed 12 games, but has returned to play in the last six Devils’ games. In those six games he is averaging more than 22 minutes and has been on the ice for only five of the 19 goals the Devils allowed in those games. He is likely to draw the big assignment of ensuring that Alex Ovechkin remains as quiet as he has been lately.
Washington: Jeff Schultz
“Mr. Plus-50” is minus-4 over his last three games and has had “minus” games in five of his last seven contests. The Devils have not posed a consistent threat on offense this season, but a team with Ilya Kovalchuk patrolling the wing cannot be taken lightly. Schultz is – and will be in this game – something of an indicator of the larger matter of whether the Caps are taking this game seriously. He isn’t going to put up points (he has no goals and five assists), but he is on the ice for a fair number of goals, being paired with Mike Green, and – when he and his teammates are on their respective games – is not on the ice for many goals. No Caps defenseman has been on the ice for more goals so far than Schultz, and this needs to change. No time like the present.
1. Hit the “trail.” Only one team in the entire league has scored the first goal of the game less often than New Jersey (Nashville). Only eight times have the Devils lit the lamp first. They are a .500 team when they do so (3-3-2).
2. Kill, Cappies, Kill. The Devils have only three power play goals this month in eight games. They are 4-for-46 in their last 15 games. Don’t be making things interesting by letting the power play off the hook.
3. Ready, aim…oh, heck, just SHOOT! For such a high-powered offense, you would think the Caps shoot a lot. Well, not really, at least as those shots get on net. Washington is tied for 12th in shots on goal per game. The Devils, whatever their other ills, can still hold teams off in getting pucks to the net. They have the seventh-lowest shots per game total in the league. But considering that the team save percentage is .878 (.861 by goaltenders not named “Brodeur”), the Caps need to get pucks on net, and good things are likely to happen.
In the end, there is no plausible excuse for losing this game. None. The Devils cannot compete offensively with the Caps, unless Ilya Kovalchuk goes absolutely nuts, and the Caps can put out any goaltender in their system at the moment and likely get a better performance than what the Devils have gotten from the backups. You could say, like they do in football, that “on any given night” any team can beat any other, but that just should not be the case in this game.
Caps 5 – Devils 1