First, let me say I am a huge fan of all the work Fischer does here and while I post infrequently (I mostly lurk and post on Fire & Ice) I hope this fanpost illicits some productive discussion
Question before I proceed: If I told most of you on July 2, 2009 that we would be in sole possession of first place at the Olympic would you have believed me? (I wouldn't have believed it either)
Despite the recent slide this team has been great to follow this year. A number of great comebacks, great individual play and a deadline deal we haven't seen the likes of in 10 years.
Issue 1: Focus
I feel like the Olympics have been a major distraction for this team and I will be happy once the Olympic players can focus on the NHL. I am not sure if it has been played up by the media but I feel that 1/4 of the questions that have been asked to the Devils Olympic players over the last few months have been in regards to Vancouver. Now I know they are supposed to be professionals and block things out and focus, but considering the pressure some of them are under (Marty, Elias, Langs) it would be hard to say that they have not been distracted. Additionally, the Kovalchuck trade must have thrown them off a bit. This organization doesn't make trades like the one they pulled off a week and a half ago and it will take time for Ilya to blend with this group, but it will happen. Lemaire is too good of a coach to not have them focused down the strech and in the playoffs.
Issue 2: Scoring
Goals have been tough to come by recently, but I am not that concerned with our offensive output going forward. We have 4 Olympians that make up our top 2 scoring lines and 2 quality players that that support them very well. The scoring will come once some chemistry is developed and we score some goals on the power play. That said, I think Lemaire needs to settle on some lines and let them go for a few games even if they do not producte initially. Could the answer be to load up our first line with Kovy and Parise? Kovy scoring/setting up the outside goals to Parise on the inside. Possibly, although my preference would be to see them on separate lines and I think a Kovy-Elias (at center)-Zubrus(taking the draws could be a special line. Although, if the checking line struggles I wouldn't mind giving Rolston a shot on the top 2 lines again.
The power play, which has been terrible, should start to click with (1) the return of Clarkson as a player who can patrol the middle and (2) the team adjusting to Kovy at the point and not focusing on getting him the puck all the time. Even in the Carolina game you can see many slot opportunities will open up with Kovy at the point. If the Devils can capitalize on some of these opportunities we can be a top 5 power play again.
Our bottom 2 lines consist of quality players (Clarkson, Rolston, Pando, Nieds, McAmmond, Zharkov, etc) so at this point they don’t concern me. If they can play good defense and provide a spark on offense from time to time, they will supplement the top 2 lines well. On a side note, I really hope Zharkov can finally score a goal, he has been so close a few times. I go back and forth on whether or not he should be in Lowell at this point. I feel like he adds a spark to the offense when he is used that I want to stay on the roster but I don't want his development being hindered because he is not receiving enough ice time.
Issue 3: Defense
The D is my major concern right now, and I hope Paul Martin can play like he has in the past because we need his 23 minutes plus per game desperately. Once he comes back and we are able to shift everyone down and take some responsibility away from guys like Salmela, Fraser & Mottau (and Mottau, while occassionally making some bad plays, has played well this year. He is a 3rd pairing guy playing 1st pair minutes)some pressure should be taken away from the offense on the back check so the offense can open up a little bit.
Salmela has seemed to play well and was a nice add in to the Kovy deal, but I had a lot of concerns about this unit before we traded Oduya. It will be interesting to see Greene's role once Martin returns and how many minutes he receives per game. I feel like Lemaire gave too many minutes to him, Mottau and White over the last few months and the Olympic break is a welcome vacation for these guys.
I am not sure if Lou deals for a defenseman depth again but that could certainly be interesting. Hamhuis has been rumored by a reputable Nashville blogger as someone who NJ is interested in,found here via Twitter, so we will see if that comes to fruition, although I have no idea who Nashville would want in return. The only guy I could see them wanting would be Clarkson, and I wouldn't want to move an RFA for an UFA.
Just my thoughts on the 'state' of the Devils, and I would be interested to hear other opinions. You will notice I did not add 'goaltending' as an issue. It's not an issue. Marty hasn't played his best, but he is still better than the majority of goalies out there. I am not concerned, at all, about the goaltending.