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Monday, December 20, 2010
Just how bad is the Devils' offense?

By Mike Hume

If you find humor in irony ... or if you're a Flyers fan ... you must be howling with laughter at the Devils right now. Here they are, 32 games into a season in which they added one of the league's elite scorers to an already accomplished squad and the Devs sit dead last in goals per game. And I mean, dead -- no pulse, don't bother with the defibrillator. At least that's how it appears.

New Jersey is currently averaging 1.75 goals per game. Not only is that the lowest scoring average in the league this season, but no one has even come close since the Tampa Bay Lightning clunked along at a 1.84 clip in 1997-98. Even the Columbus Blue Jackets were a quarter of a goal better in 2000-01, the franchise's second season.

What makes it even more confounding? Since the lockout, with the game's tempo and scoring on the rise, no team has even dipped below 2.30 goals per game (the Islanders in 2007-08). Simply put, Devils fans are watching the single most inept offense of the NHL's modern era ... despite locking down Ilya Kovalchuk and his 346 career goals.

On the surface that's a rather chilling reality, considering the Devils are supposed to be built to win now, but instead appear to require major retooling with limited means. But there are a few factors that cushion the blow. First, the Devs have missed perennial 30-goal scorer Zach Parise since October 30 due to injury. Second, New Jersey may just be a little unlucky with its shots. According to metricians, on average, NHL teams score on somewhere between 9 and 10 percent of their shots on goal. This season the Devs have only converted at a 5.9 percent clip.

Signs like that, plus Parise's return, indicate the Devils should be due some goals between now and the end of the season and that goal-per-game average should improve accordingly. Will it be enough for an improbable run at the playoffs? That's a much tougher question. But it should hopefully quell concerns that the Devils' roster is fundamentally flawed in the scoring department.

There's no doubt the Devils have been bad to date, but it doesn't appear that they'll stay this down for good. A few tweaks, a few better bounces and a little better luck in the health department and New Jersey's offense should start to rebound in the second half of the season.