Saturday, October 16, 2010

Devils' offensive woes continue

Maybe I shouldn't be as annoyed about last night's 3-2 home loss to Colorado as I am...after all, the Devils dominated in terms of shots (43-22) and scoring chances. Plus, our bevy of rookies led by defensemen Matt Taormina, Matthew Corrente, Alexander Urbom and teen center Jacob Josefson in his NHL debut all gave encouraging accounts of themselves. Especially Taormina, who is looking more and more like this season's Andy Greene - the undersized puck-moving defenseman we develop out of nowhere that becomes a key.

Facts are facts though, not only are we 1-3-1 and tied for last in the division, but our $40 million cap dollars spent on forwards have given us less than two goals a game so far. Yep, nine goals in five games - and two of those came in the first seven minutes of the season - for a team with two thirds of its cap tied up in forwards that have underachieved to this point. Sure, Ilya Kovalchuk has two goals and two assists but really last night's third-period goal was more on Avs goalie Craig Anderson, who allowed a weak wrister on one of the rare shots where we didn't hit his equipment. And eventually you have to figure Zach Parise (one goal so far) will pick it up.

Most of the other forwards are starting to concern me though. Patrik Elias had about the worst game I've seen from him since 2003 with his indecision, perimeter play and obsessive hail mary passes. Not to mention holding the puck for at least ten seconds with time running down late in the third period, as if he was protecting a lead instead of trying to tie the game. Jamie Langenbrunner hasn't scored yet, and other than some secondary assists has picked right up where he left off last year. David Clarkson might permanently have to change his name to Meathead, like Archie Bunker's son-in-law. Sure, he'll compete and I believe wants to do well but he needs to see the wizard to acquire a brain. He thinks he can score goals by skill first and grit second when really it has to be the other way around, he has to go to the net and do the dirty work, which he hasn't done to this point.

And Danius Zubrus, oh boy...he looks like the Little Engine That Couldn't. Not only did he clang one off the post on a wraparound attempt where he beat Anderson in front, but he flubbed a two-on-the goalie chance in the second period which should have been an automatic goal with him and Clarkson skating unimpeded on Anderson. Inexplicably, Zubrus kept the puck, went to his backhand in the middle of the net and missed it. Other than Brian Rolston (lolz) who's on IR for the forseeable future, all the forwards I named basically make up a ton of cap space that we don't have. With two offensive coaches in Johnny MacLean and Adam Oates behind the bench, this simply cannot continue.

Sure, Martin Brodeur had a bad game last night allowing two short-side goals including a softie midway through the first period to Cody McLeod while we were outshooting Colorado 17-3 in the period, which included a futile FIVE-minute power play after the same McLeod got himself ejected for a major boarding penalty on the next shift after his goal. But what, exactly was the offense doing on said power play when they played perimeter hockey for the whole duration? I know they had a couple of chances early in the power play but when you don't have anyone getting closer to the net than the faceoff dots, you're going to have a big problem scoring - especially against a good goalie like Anderson.

It took till about the middle of the second period for anyone to even breathe on the Avs goalie, and by that time we were down 2-0...but when we finally went to the net a little, voila - Parise provided a screen in front for Taormina's first NHL goal that got us back in the game. Speaking of which, it's a pretty bad sign when an undrafted FA defenseman who wasn't even on most people's radar as far as making the team has been better offensively than just about all of our high-priced forwards.

Of course it doesn't help when Johnny Mac was one of the top graduates of the Jacques Lemaire school of changing our forward lines every five minutes. Most of these guys haven't played together much, between Kovy's 27 games last year and the new additions of Jason Arnott and now Josefson...can we give them a chance to gel with our holdovers here at least? Or at least play the same positions? After the balleyhooed switch of Kovy to RW, in this game Kovy was back at his LW slot with Parise at RW, a position he's never played, even in practice. You couldn't blame a short roster for the confusion last night, since we dressed twenty for the first time since last weekend.

Granted, I don't mind using the first ten games or so to get a look at players and our great regular seasons in the past have amounted to nothing but after a summer of upheaval, can we at least try to calm the waters here for a while before we wind up in a struggle to even make the playoffs? Especially now that we know what the roster will look like for the next several weeks at least. Not to mention having a six-game road trip of death looming on the horizon. If we don't watch it we'll bury ourselves early a la Carolina last season.

One thing's for sure, the expected marketing value of Kovy hasn't materialized one bit in the first three games, with a dissapointing crowd of just over 12,000 last night. We were having 13,000 crowds for preseason games! Of course, there's a big difference between counting voucher giveaways and actual tickets sold. I do expect tonight's crowd to be much better, since weekend games usually are - in spite of having a Yankee playoff game tonight as well - but man, if Jeff Vanderbeek is going to get $100 million worth out of Kovy it better come on the ice with playoff revenue.

Like the old football coach Jim Mora though, I don't want to talk about playoffs right now. I just want to win a game.

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