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Devils Defense Contributing To Offensive Slump

Andy Greene has been among the several Devils' defensemen providing no offense along the blue line. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils rank last in the league with 58 goals scored in 32 games. Multiple fowards, like Ilya Kovalchuk, have suffered through season-long offensive slumps. Their lack of finish highlights the team’s inability to score goals. But the blame shouldn’t be heaped on their shoulders.

The Devils defense currently sits tied for 26th in the NHL in goals scored. Their seven scores place them with the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, both below .500 and near the bottom of the standings. The lack of offensive defensemen has helped stymie the Devils offense this season. With no viable options in sight, the poor scoring abilities of New Jersey’s defensemen will continue to hurt the offense.

During the offseason, the Devils failed to address one glaring issue – the lack of a quality puck-moving defenseman. The team lost Paul Martin to free agency, eliminating the only quality offensive defenseman on the Devils roster. Andy Greene remained, becoming the number one offensive option. Instead of filling a glaring hole, Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello signed Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, hardly the offensive juggernauts.

That hole remains larger than ever. Greene has failed to meet expectations, with only 10 points through 32 games this season. No other defenseman filled the void. It seemed like Matt Taormina could fill the void, but a high-ankle sprain shelved the rookie. With no promising offensive defenseman being called up and trades looking non-existent, this hole will probably remain for the rest of the season.

Those seven goals represent more than offensive futility. Without offensive skill, every facet of the offense suffers. It starts with New Jersey’s breakout. Not every defenseman needs offensive skill to make the first pass. Most Devils’ defenders,, however, lack the skill to carry the puck up ice. They can’t make forechekcers miss, so opponents focus on forwards. That cuts down the options for the defense and neutralizes the breakout.

This carries over into the offensive zone as well. Teams are routinely clogging the slot and giving the Devils point shots. Opponents know the defenseman pose little threat. That allows them to knock away rebounds, etc. and deny Devils’ forwards scoring opportunities. With less space to work, scoring chances decrease dramatically.

The Devils aren’t the only team with this problem. Several teams struggle to find offense along the blue line. One look at the chart (seen here) shows the importance of offensive production from the defense. Teams like Atlanta, Detroit and Pittsburgh have multiple goals from defenseman. It’s no coincidence they sit atop their respective conferences. Offensive defensemen open up more possibilities and create a better overall offense.

While the forwards receive most of the blame, Devils defenders remain a large culprit in the team’s offensive futility. With no goal scoring along the blue line, New Jersey enters every game shorthanded offensively. The coaches should find a way around it. But, as the stats show, little contribution from the blueline costs teams in the standings.

*Thanks to both James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail and Pension Plan Puppets for the stat chart.

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