All the hoopla that has been generated this offseason over the Devils signing of Ilya Kovalchuk need not be the story of the Devils season. Though Kovalchuk obviously brings a perennial 40 goal scorer and game changing ability, the Devils acquistion of Anton Volchenkov should be the real story as the Devils prepare to begin another campaign this Friday at the Rock.
Volchenkov is as much of a game-changer as Kovalchuk. He brings the ability to change a game on defense the way Kovalchuk would affect it on offense. This is because Volchenkov has the ability to shut down one side of the ice and more specifically, one line of the opposing team. With this combination, the Devils will play counter-attack hockey with only two dmen when Anton is on the ice and will therefore be able to create 3 on 2 chances because of his ability. When playoff time roles around, the Devils will need this stopper if they do indeed make it (no predictions just yet, I'm a superstitious man).
Anton has the ability to save goals with his shot blocking ability. He is consistently among the top five in blocked shots each year and probably saves a handful of goals because of his ability. If you rewatch the Devils-Flyers series last year (as painful as it may be), it will become apparent that the Devils squandered opportunities due to the the Flyers shot blocking ability.
Further, Anton's checking is superb. While he may bring a package of highlight hits to the Devils this year, he also has the ability to keep Marty protected and battle against those looking to make a home in front of the net. This will stymie teams (like the Flyers) who make a living out of hardworking goals.
Finally, and probably most importantly, Anton provides the ability to allow for an offensive defenseman to "run freely" because of his defense. Regardless of whether Greene, Urbom, or Tallinder plays along side him, it is not inconceivable that a Devils defenseman playing along side Anton could score 10-20 goals and put up at least 40 points. Lou has compared Anton to Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko. If you look at the career of Scott Neidermayer playing along side one of these two, it is obvious that the presence of a stopper allowed Scotty to play his style of hockey and put up the type of offensive numbers befitting someone of his talent (Scott never scored less than 30 points during his tenure with the Devils during a full season's worth of action).
Lou was on target when he said that Anton is a game changer because of his dynamic ability as a shot blocker and a stopper. This will ultimately allow for the Devils offense to play aggressively whenever he is on the ice. In Lou We Trust!