Having A Devil Of A Time

The Canadiens face New Jersey on Thursday and the season hasn’t
started well for the Devils. They’ve gotten only three of a possible 12
points (one win in overtime, one loss in overtime) and have surrendered
21 goals, tied for the second worst in the league. For all the talk that
they’d assembled two top notch offensive lines, they’ve only scored 10
goals, lowest among Eastern Conference teams.

Ilya Kovalchuk,
whose new
is worth almost as much as Jeff
Vinik reportedly paid for the Tampa Bay Lightning
, leads them with 2
goals and 3 assists. He’s also a minus-3 and he’s not been the
dominant, game-changing force that, for example, Marian
Hossa has been for Chicago

The early season experiment of
shifting Kovalchuk to right wing on a line with Travis Zajac and Zach
Parise didn’t work. Most recently, Kovalchuk has been skating in
practice this week, still on the right side, with Patrik Elias on the
left side and 19 year old rookie Jacob Josefson, a 2009 first rounder,
between them.

Zajac and Parise are with Dainius Zubrus. Jason Arnott is between
Jamie Langenbrunner and Rod Pelley, an energetic fourth liner who has
impressed new coach John MacLean. Pelley replaces David Clarkson, who’s a
minus-6 and has been shifted to a line with pesky Tim Sestito centered
by veteran Adam Mair, signed by New Jersey last week.

critics believe
Kovalchuk can’t be as effective as a right winger
as he is on the left side. First-year head coach John MacLean shifted
him back to the left side during the Devils last game against Boston,
with Josefson and Clarkson, but obviously wasn’t happy with what he saw.

Marty Brodeur has had more pucks go through him in five
two-thirds games than he normally surrenders in a couple of months. His
save percentage is .887, and that includes a shutout one week ago in
Buffalo, the team’s only victory. He is 38-16-5 all-time against
Montreal with a 1.78 average.

At some point, time will catch up
with Brodeur but it’s not clear if that time has arrived yet. Watching
some of the goals he’s surrendered, it’s clear he’s been facing many
more quality scoring chances than he has in the past. Some of that is
because the Devils under MacLean are not the same defence-first club
they’ve historically been and some is because this team has a lot of new
parts and MacLean is still trying to fit them together and find the
right chemistry.

“Everybody thinks we’re all offense, but you know
what? Our offense
right now is not working,” the 38 year old Brodeur said last week
(quoted by Tom

Gulitti blogging for The Bergen Record). “We have to get it back to

playing a solid defensive game and we’ll get more opportunities
(offensively). I think the past is a good thing to look at because we
know that when we had solid defensive teams we usually had really good
offensive teams. So, we have to get back to playing really smart

Both MacLean and GM Lou Lamoriello have downplayed the
offensive struggles, saying the Devils have been getting chances but
they haven’t finished them. The Devils have averaged 35 shots a game
over the past four outings. But they’ve only scored five goals while
surrendering 10.

After losing to the Bruins 4-1 last
Saturday, MacLean kept the doors of the dressing room closed and
expressed his disappointment in his team’s start. With their six games
played over nine days, they’ve spent the last few days practicing and in the words of

Henrik Tallinder, “maybe try to learn each other more on the ice and
off the ice.”

Tallinder was brought in during the offseason along
with Anton Volchenkov to rebuild the defence corps that lost Paul
Martin and Mike Mottau (although the Devils weren’t interested in
Mottau). But Volchenkov is currently injured, out indefinitely after a
puck struck his visor and broke his nose, and Bryce Salvador is out with
a concussion.

So, largely because of their salary cap limitations, they’ve played three rookies on defence, Matt
Corrente (who is projected as a top shutdown blueliner), Matt Taormina
(a good, but smallish, puck mover) and Alex Urbom (also a defensive
defenceman). Urbom didn’t work out (he was minus-3 in six games) and was
sent down to AHL Albany this week, replaced by
another rookie, Olivier Magnan-Grenier, who is a physical player with
some mobility limitations.

Rugged veteran Colin White remains a
steady presence on the Devils back end.

Despite their record,
there doesn’t seem to be any panic in New Jersey. They’ve been joking
around, keeping the mood light, even during the hard practices this week
MacLean has put them through.

“I think they understand the
situation,” MacLean said Tuesday. “These two days,
I’ve been very happy with how they’ve practiced. They’ve worked. We have
another one tomorrow and then we have to get ready to play the

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