It could be the sales pitch that goes down in New Jersey Devils history.
Despite being down by three games in the Stanley Cup Final the Devils had intended to go into game 4 with only one change: Petr Sykora in for Jacob Josefson. That was before Henrik Tallinder talked his way back into the lineup: Per Tom Gulitti's Fire and Ice Blog, Pete DeBoer had this to say after the game 4 victory:
"I had a conversation with Henrik explaining to him on Tuesday kind of my thought process," DeBoer said. "I knew he was ready to go. I had explained to him that I felt that Peter Harrold and (Anton) Volchenkov had done a real good job for us and it was going to be tough to take those guys out of the lineup. Really, where I had a change of heart was in his reaction. It wasn’t negative. He (Tallinder) was just adamant he was ready and really thought that he could help and when a player puts his neck on the line like that I got a real comfort level, knowing he’s a veteran guy and knowing how good he was at the top of his game for us as a top two guy that he could help us.
"He was outstanding, a big boost for us," DeBoer said.
It was one of the many Midas touch decisions DeBoer has made that have worked out great in the Devils Stanley Cup run. As I stated last week, I didn't think it was likely we would see Tallinder again this season. Talinder, who had been recovering from a blood clot, had not played in almost 5 months. In fact it was only three weeks since he started really skating hard and a little more than a week since the doctors finally gave him medical clearance to play.
The addition of Tallinder has come at the most opportune of times. The defenseman has injected himself seamlessly into the lineup and been the Devils best defender over the past two games.
After the jump we will look at the statistics of the Devils defenders since Tallinder's return, specifically the ice-time distribution of the defense, possession stats and zone starts.
Zone starts and possession stats are aggregate totals from the past two games. Ice-time is averaged out. Stats generated via nhl.com and timeonice.com.
After two games, Tallinder has quickly re-trenched himself in a top 4 role. Unlike the Peter Harrold/Anton Volchenkov pairing, Tallinder has given Pete DeBoer three pairings that he trusts. The most surprising item has been the drop in even strength ice-time of Mark Fayne and Andy Greene. While both are playing more time on the power play and penalty kill units(this is because of Harrolds absence on the 2nd PP unit and Bryce Salvador's propensity for penalties in Game 5) their role as the 'stoppers' seems to have taken a step back.
Tallinder and Zidlicky have also had the most success at driving the puck forward. While each of the other pairings were pounded on by Los Angeles in the latter stages of game 4 and most of game 5, Zidlicky and Tallinder have been the guys to help the Devils offense by getting the puck out of the defensive zone.
It looks like a straight exchange of Tallinder for Harrold but it has had a greater effect. With Zidlicky and Harrold on the right side of the Devils' defense, the Kings were able to take advantage of their size on the left wing by always knowing that at least one and at times two of Dustin Brown, Dustin Penner and Dwight King would have a decided physical advantage. It forced Zidlicky into situations where he had to do a little more heavy lifting and didn't allow him to utilize his strengths to the fullest.
Adding Tallinder allowed the Devils to move Volchenkov to the right side and it has changed the look significantly for the three Kings forwards. Brown, Penner and King are now facing two big defenders in Volchenkov and Fayne and it allows Zidlicky to be in situations more suitable to his skill set.
The take is interesting because to me, it's seemed that the Kings have still had the better of the play and Zidlicky has not been able to create much more offensively.
The addition of Tallinder does add a savvy presence that the other pairings currently lack. There is too much passing by defensemen to forwards along the boards in the defensive zone for my liking right now. A common occurrence in the last two games was a pass from behind the goal line to a forward on the boards half way up the defensive zone. Opposing forwards had an easy read and were able to create turnovers. Tallinder on the other hand seemed more poised and was able to either hit a forward in stride or skate the puck up enough to create space and get the puck out to the neutral zone himself.
Tallinder's return to the lineup has evolved into a welcome surprise. The Devils top defenseman over the last two seasons hasn't looked rusty and has given a boost to the blue line corps. If the Devils should complete what is still a monumental task ahead of them, his impact upon his return to the lineup will be one talked about for a long time.