Averaging just 1.5 goals per game, New Jersey already needed someone to step up their offense simply to get the Devs off their early-season slide. Now they'll need someone to carry them all the way through the end of January.
With this ominous development hanging over their heads, the Devils take on the reigning Stanley Cup champions in Chicago tonight, a team whose defensive corps ranked as the league's best a season ago. Here are three keys to watch for as New Jersey seeks a badly needed W.
Shoot. Again. And Again. Ilya Kovalchuk has recorded just two shots on goal in each of the Devils' last three games after getting completely shutout against San Jose. Just like in basketball when good shooters need to shoot themselves out of slumps, Kovalchuk needs to keep firing. Not that shots will come easy against the Hawks tonight. Chicago's netminders faced the fewest shots of any NHL team last season, but so far the Blackhawks haven't been able to lock down opposing offenses in the same way (20th in shots against per game). The Devils, and particularly Kovalchuk, need to fire at will.
Even Strength? The Devils are the NHL's worst team when skating five aside. Any improvement by the team needs to start here. Getting outscored 28-15 at even strength just isn't going to cut it. Part of the reason for that lopsided margin has been bad turnovers. You may have the same number of players on the ice, but when your players try to dangle the puck in the neutral zone only to get their pockets picked, suddenly the math gets a lot uglier with an odd-man rush going back towards Martin Brodeur. Needless to say, that's not an equation for success.
Watch All The Weapons Patrick Sharp. Marian Hossa. Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews. New Jersey isn't going to be able to match up the way it wants against all of Chicago's top skaters, particularly not on the road where John MacLean won't enjoy the last line change. Everyone on the ice will need to keep their heads on swivels to keep Chicago off the scoreboard. With the litany of Devils injuries, this is an opportunity for some young players to step up and make a solid impression.