The start to Ryane Clowe's Devils career was certainly a forgettable one. He had six mostly lackluster games, all of which the Devils lost. As frustration grew to start the season, Clowe's mediocre play and big contract made him an early target for fan ire. Then, after game number six in Winnipeg, Clowe went down with the injury we had all feared when the Devils gave him that gaudy contract in the offseason. After taking a Jacob Trouba elbow to the head, Clowe was held out of the next game due to "concussion-like symptoms." The Devils claimed he'd be day-to-day, but as we know now, they were greatly underselling the severity of the situation. Clowe would be out for nearly two and a half months with an ailment was clearly a little more "concussion" than "concussion-like."
As his days on IR started to stack up, the contract given to Clowe in the off season -- which had already looked fairly ill-advised to many when it was signed -- kept looking worse and worse. Fans were frustrated, rightfully so, with the prospect of the team wasting cap space on a guy who was ineffective when he was on the ice and then completely disappeared from the team after getting injured six games into his contract. It got to the point where we all began to wonder whether Clowe ever actually existed in the first place.
It turns out though, that Ryane Clowe does, in fact, exist, and he can help a team that is starving for offense out when he is at 100%. He returned to the team in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 27th after totaling 74 days off the ice. His first couple games against the Jackets and Islanders were so-so outings at best, to be sure, but in the game against the Penguins on New Year’s Eve, it appeared something clicked and, along with his newly-minted linemates Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder, Clowe looked impressive. He cleared space, he got shots on net, and he helped force a turnover that got the Devils the opening goal of that game, yielding him just his second assist and point of the season.
The Chicago game was a bit of a step back (though games against the Blackhawks can often feel that way), but Clowe has really turned it on since that point. He has stacked up 14 shots in his last five games and in Saturday’s tilt against the Maple Leafs, he finally broke through for his first goal of the season. It came on a breakaway, of all things, something you might not expect from a guy with his type of speed (or lack thereof). Also collecting an assist that night, he now has his first multi-point game as a Devil, along with a four-game point streak. Yes, Clowe appears to have found his stride a bit (that whole Clowe-Henrique-Ryder unit has, for that matter), and a look at his stats from before and after his injury will tell you the same.
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The sample sizes may be small, but the difference is stark. Clowe had failed to put up more than a single shot in any of the games to start off the season before his concussion. He is now averaging two shots per game since coming back, including efforts where he bombed away to the tune of six and five shots, respectively, in games versus the Flyers and Leafs. His point totals certainly speak for themselves, as his after-injury output is probably in line with what the Devils were hoping for when they brought him in, instead of numbers you might expect from a marginal fourth-liner. His possession numbers are looking much better as well these days, as the Devils are no longer getting outshot like they are the Sabres while he is on the ice.
This, again, is a small sample, but it is good to see Clowe starting to get his legs under him, especially given the amount of heat he has taken from the fans early on. Like it or not, he is signed up for the next five years, so the Devils need him to contribute to try and justify the cap space he occupies. He will never be a speed guy, which some people will struggle to get past, but his job is to win puck battles and help generate offense for this team, something it appears he may finally be ready to do. The specter of the injury bug will always loom with his concussion history, but while he is healthy, he can certainly be part of the solution on what has, to this point, been an endlessly frustrating team. At the very least, he is trending in the right direction.
One final fun fact to send you on your way: Clowe (1G, 6A) is now exactly one point behind Mr. David Clarkson (3G, 5A) on the season, despite appearing in 19 fewer games. It could always be worse, folks.
So do you feel like Ryane Clowe has turned a corner, or is this just a blip along the way? Do you like what he brings to this team when healthy? Do you feel better about his gaudy contract than you did a month ago? Can we be positive that he is a real living human person now? Add your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading.