The Morning Skate: Rangers Push Devils Out Of Playoff Picture

Dave: So Jeff, after this loss that has the Devils on the outside looking in in terms of the playoff picture, let’s play a little Devils Advocate (pun somewhat intended), is the sky falling, or will everything be okay?
Jeff: I’m right on the precipice of panic. All the teams above the Devils with the same point total have a game in hand on them. Sure it’s one game, but the Devils only have 18 left. Other teams are hot on their trail as well. The Islanders are lurking and Tampa isn’t that far away either. It’s getting pretty clogged.
Dave: Yes, but at the same time, the Devils are still tied for 6th place in terms of points. One win, and they could possibly be in 6th, so though they’re struggling, all it takes is a couple of wins and they can be right back in the thick of it.
Jeff: I’m just not sure this team can survive with key cogs on offense out of the lineup. It is believed Zubrus is out for another week or two…not sure I buy that. Just because he has his legs, doesn’t mean he’s ready to go. He’s got to do what Henrique did earlier in the year, get that wrist back to full strength. He hasn’t done any of that type of work yet. It would sting not to have Loktionov on Thursday, considering Carolina is one of the teams they are chasing now. And if Ponikarovsky is out for a bit, it means you’re reeeeeaaallllyyy stretching the roster to make a serviceable third line. Not sure they can survive this upfront.
Dave: Adversely, you can look at that as a positive. They’ll have Marty back on Thursday which should be an emotional boost and with Loktionov and Zubrus coming back sooner than later, this team will finally start to have all of their horses in the stable (barring any sort of injury). I think when it comes down to it, this season, it’s all about making the playoffs. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but right now they’re absolutely still close enough to make a push. You also have to think that a win on Thursday, will not only put them in front of Carolina, but could get them on a roll with Brodeur in net. It’ll also be interesting to see if Lou makes a move with the trade deadline a little over two weeks away. Do you think we see a new face or two in NJ?
Jeff: I think we will, because that’s Lou’s style. The biggest issue of late has been the line combinations. DeBoer has been hesitant to stay with certain ones until the last few games. What if he changes them again? There should be enough talent on this roster to overcome such a minor issue, but I’m second guessing it. I think it’s driving DeBoer out of his wits, because he really doesn’t have full faith in any one line. A few weeks ago, it was the CBGB’s and that was it. There is such a fine line between giving fair time for lines to gel and switching them up quickly because of the 48-game season.
Dave: Yeah, I definitely agree with you on that point. It’s easy to start second guessing and changing things, but at some point you have to leave the lines alone and let them start to gel. But, let’s not forget, this team did score 5 goals a few games ago. Perhaps Loktionov is a bigger part of this team than we think?
Jeff: Here’s one for you, outside of the games vs. the Flyers how many times have the Devils scored more than three goals this year? One time…vs. the Lightning. That’s it. Kovalchuk hasn’t show any spurt of stellar hockey like he did the last two years. Elias has slowed a bit. David Clarkson may have been a fluke last year. Loktionov actually has some dynamic elements to his game. You can say that about very few players on the Devils. As weird as it is, he’s a vital cog for this squad. He makes Ponikarovsky a better player and he clicks pretty solidly with Kovalchuk.
Dave: I hate to say it… because I know it’s something we all think, but don’t want to say, but this team sorely misses Zach Parise. No other way to look at it, but this is an offensively challenged team right now. They didn’t replace the goals lost and when they have injuries piling up, they’re going to struggle to score, but..I still think that this team will make the playoffs. They looked so good to start the year, you have to think that this team is at least capable of playing something similar to that.
Jeff: Yea, all those goals Clarkson hasn’t stuffed home over the last dozen, Parise would have been scoring those type of goals, picking up his slack. I think they can make it too. Honestly, they just need a little mini-winning streak…like a three-gamer…and they’ll instantly get some breathing room. That’s all! They don’t have to go 14-2-2.  Just string a few, short wins together and I think they’ll be OK.