Right now, Devils just an average team

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
1:45
AM ET
After Wednesday night’s 6-1 blowout loss, a reporter asked Devils coach Peter DeBoer if he thought his team hadn’t been playing well since blowing a three-goal lead and losing to Florida.

In short, DeBoer replied that he disagreed with that assessment.

Why?

Through 23 games the Devils are 12-10-1, the definition of an average team. And lately, they’ve been worse than average.

Their two best players -- Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk -- who combine to make nearly $13 million, have produced a total of 11 goals over those 24 games.

On Wednesday night, Kovalchuk scored the Devils’ lone goal, but finished with a minus-four rating. Parise ended up getting the secondary assist on the marker, the first time he’s assisted on a Kovalchuk goal since the two were paired together on the top line.

It’s been nine games. Kovalchuk hasn’t produced after being moved to the right wing, yet DeBoer continues to play him there. Meanwhile, Parise, a player who generates almost all of his offense from underneath the hash marks, continues to play left wing. Doesn't switching them make sense?

The Devils paid Kovalchuk $100 million because they thought he would produce on the power play. Well, through nearly a third of the season, he has five points on the man-advantage despite being double-shifted on the power play on a nightly basis.

Defensively, the Devils have also been underachieving. Their six regular backliners sport a combined minus-23 rating and have amassed just five goals between them. By comparison, Florida’s Jason Garrison has eight and is a plus-nine -- by himself.

The Devils are retiring Scott Niedermayer’s jersey on Dec. 16. But before they do that, they should ask if he can still lace em’ up.

And Martin Brodeur is no longer the best goaltender in the game. Is he the best netminder of all-time? Yes. Is he going into the Hall of Fame? Of course. Without question. But he’s not what he once was.

After giving up a season-high six goals on Wednesday night, the 39-year-old’s goals-against average stands at 3.09 and his save percentage at .887.

The Devils have scored more goals than they did last season -- not that that’s saying much -- but they’re in the middle of the pack defensively. And their power play ranks 26th.

They are far and away the best penalty-killing team in the NHL, but they’ve given up a league-worst six short-handed goals. Unacceptable.

They haven’t held leads in the third period like they historically have, and they’ve turned the puck over too much. They've struggled with breakouts and at times with getting the puck out of their own zone.

Now, it would be unfair not to point out how well the Petr Sykora-Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus line has played, how impressive Adam Larsson has been considering he’s just 19, how unbelievable Johan Hedberg has been backing up Brodeur and how productive David Clarkson has been since using a shorter stick.

The Devils have won just as much as they’ve lost, and given the way they started last season, that is to be commended.

But the reality is that they’re an average team right now. The playoffs are by no means a guarantee.

The Devils have issues. Changes may be coming. Or maybe they’ll turn it on, begin clicking on all cylinders once Travis Zajac comes back and all this will be forgotten.

Or maybe it won’t. A scary thought for Devils fans everywhere.

Mike Mazzeo

ESPN New York Writer

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