After tonight’s New Jersey Devils game, it was never more glaringly obvious that the back side of their skaters are the biggest issues on this team.
On paper, this should be a unit of strength. They have four veterans who have all played in the biggest of opportunities. They have the no. 4 overall pick from a few years ago. They have a player who is in his prime and looking to take over this defense. Then they have a guy who, while sometimes inconsistent, has always been solid on the back end.
It is well known that the Devils have very good defensemen in their system — so good that the loss of Alexander Urbom wasn’t the worst thing in the world. They have Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas, who are as close to NHL-ready as most prospects can be. They also have depth behind them. They seem to be set in that position in terms of the future.
The question is what to do about this unit right now. The lines have been pretty much the same besides inserting Mark Fayne and subtracting Adam Larsson, and vice versa. Those two should be in the lineup every single night. Peter Harrold is usually the player who is the healthy scratch, but he has been the second-best defenseman on their team.
Bryce Salvador is playing much better than he was last season. Marek Zidlicky looked like he remembered how to actually play defense, up until the awful play when he was out of position and the Calgary Flames scored the game-winning goal. Andy Greene is looking to be the go-to guy on this unit.
The two players to watch on this unit is Larsson and Anton Volchenkov. Their current play has been well below average, and that is being kind. Larsson was supposed to break out into a great defenseman this season. Volchenkov was supposed to remember how to stay on his skates. The positioning of these two has caused too many goals. Larsson is especially bad, showing that with his -4.
Speaking of plus-minus, there is only one Devils player who is positive on the season, and that is Zidlicky. He has had better nights than Friday, but he has been an overall good defenseman. The rest of the team is varied anywhere between -1 and -4. That is beyond unacceptable.
So should Volchenkov or Harrold be sitting? There is no way to sit team captain Salvador, right? Zidlicky brings a different element to the team in terms of his offensive ability from the blue line, so he isn’t sitting. In a perfect world, the Devils would sit Volchenkov and see how the units play together. Unfortunately, money talks. The point of it is that something needs to happen. Peter DeBoer and Scott Stevens need to figure it out, and soon.