Saturday, January 14, 2012

Devils conclude Canada swing this afternoon in Winnipeg

In Alberta, the Devils endured a mixed bag of success and frustration. Their 1-1 record barely scratched the surface of what kind of week it was for the Devils, who haven't gotten good news on the injury front lately. After coming back for eight games last month, Travis Zajac will remain shut down until at least the beginning of February due to 'soreness' in his surgically repaired achilles tendon. Super rookie Adam Henrique (one of the Devils' two All-Star weekend representatives along with fellow rookie Adam Larsson) will miss at least today's game against the Jets due to a mild groin strain, and Andy Greene will have to wait at least another week to resume skating.

With Henrique out, Danius Zubrus will take his place on the top line, centering Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk with David Clarkson getting bumped to play with Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. In goal will be Martin Brodeur, for the first time since getting pulled on Tuesday after allowing two bad goals on just six shots in Calgary. Unlike other times where Brodeur was pulled early, Johan Hedberg didn't fare much better - allowing four goals on just eight shots the rest of the game. Shaky goaltending and ill-timed defensive breakdowns condemned the Devils to a 6-3 defeat against former coach Brent Sutter and his Flames despite outshooting Calgary 38-14 during the game.

Coach Pete DeBoer stuck with his plan to start Hedberg in Edmonton the next night, despite the fact he wound up playing the majority of the game in Calgary. This time, Hedberg fared much better allowing only an Ales Hemsky third-period power play goal. It was enough to send the game to overtime though, after the Devils could only manage a short-handed Ilya Kovalchuk goal in the second period. However, a power play that's suddenly coming to life helped win the game for the Devils in overtime as Elias found Parise in front for a redirection goal and a 2-1 overtime win.

Despite their inconsistencies in net and constant injury issues, the Devils remain in playoff position with a 24-17-2 record and their schedule gets easier, at least travel-wise over the next month. Over the next three weeks including the All-Star break, the Devils will play six straight home games and will be at the Rock for ten of their next thirteen with the only road games at the Garden, Philly and Buffalo. In other words, the Devils don't leave the tri-state area for another month, until their trip to Montreal on February 19. In fact, other than a trip to Detroit in April, the Devils won't leave the Eastern time zone for the rest of the season.

That said, it's not as if home games against the Jets, Bruins, Flyers and Rangers before the break are going to be by any means easy. At least the All-Star break will actually be a real rest for the entire team with none of the veterans being selected this time around. Henrique and Larsson (the Devils' only reps for All-Star weekend) won't exactly be getting major minutes in a twenty-minute long Young Stars game. Not to mention the week between the Devils' last game before the break and first game after it will give the walking wounded more time to heal.

None of that will mean very much if the Devils don't continue to win and maintain playoff position though.

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