(source: Wiki Commons)
By Sean Clancy
For the better part of two decades, Patrik Elias has been one of the most, if not the most important component of the New Jersey Devils offensive lineup. He’s averaged nearly 70 points per season throughout his career, and in the 2001-2002 season, the Devils all-time leading scorer notched a career-high 96 points.
What’s curious about Elias though is the quiet way he goes about leading the team in scoring year-in and year-out. Rarely is he among the headlines on NHL.com, nor is he often talked about as one of the best and most consistent offensive producers in the league, and yet his offensive numbers over the years paint the picture of a potential Hall of Famer when all is said and done. This is where Elias finds his strength, though. He seems perfectly content to let the media focus on players like Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane while he goes about his business providing leadership and offensive stability for the Devils.
This season, the focus may be less on him than ever before. Between all the new forwards on the Devils, the goaltending duo of Martin Brodeur and newly acquired Cory Schneider, the team’s new ownership, and lately, the goal-song controversy, Elias once again finds himself flying under the media’s radar while still doing what he does best. Producing.
But even through his on-ice demeanor he has a way of keeping the focus elsewhere. He’s one of those players that seems to have a quiet night every night. We know he can be creative and flashy when he wants, he’s certainly shown that in the past. But Elias is rarely the guy streaking up the wing with the puck and dancing around defensemen. He is never the focal point on the powerplay (although for a few seasons, Kovalchuk didn’t give anybody else that option). He seldom is the player to score highlight reel goals, perform an over-the-top celebration, take bad penalties or initiate a donnybrook. At times he can seem almost invisible out there. And yet, he always finds ways to contribute offensively.
The 2013-2014 started out slow for Elias, as it did for the rest of the team, in a 3-0 shutout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Elias was also held pointless the following night in New Jersey, as Coach DeBoer tested out potential lines, sifting through a few different combinations, trying to see where Elias will fit best on this new-look team.
On Thursday night in Edmonton, Coach Deboer may have found just what he was looking for. Paired on a line with countryman Jaromir Jagr, Elias scored the game-tying goal with just 54 seconds remaining in a game that saw the Devils blow a 3-0 lead by surrendering 4 goals in a span of 7:47. He fished the puck out of the corner (in a play very reminiscent of the 2000 Cup-clinching goal) and fed a backhand pass in front. Only this time, instead of connecting with Jason Arnott, Elias found the skate of Oiler defensemen Andrew Ference. The puck slid in the net before goaltender Jason LaBarbera could react, and just like that, Elias had his first point of the season.
Deboer kept the duo of Elias and Jagr together the following night in Vancouver, where the pair connected for a couple of goals. Their chemistry was evident early, when Elias fed a slick backhand pass to Jagr late in the first period, and the 41 year old made no mistake of putting it past Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo. Later in the game, Jagr picked up an assist on an Elias goal similar to the one in Edmonton. Here, Elias banked a centering pass off Luongo to give the Devils a 2-0 lead.
The Devils would go on to lose both of these games in a shootout and overtime respectively, but it is apparent that the 37 year old Elias isn’t slowing down just yet. He seems to have found early chemistry on a line with Jagr, and the only apparent problem thus far seems to be a question of whether or not the speed (or lack thereof) of this line will be enough to keep it together for the duration of the season. But as long as the two Czech natives can continue to develop chemistry and find a dependable (and potentially speedy) third man to complete the line, I don’t see it as being a problem. Apparently neither does Elias.
“Are you saying I’m slow?” Elias joked. “If you play with that type of player you have to have a third guy to help you out to create speed and get in the zone that way. You have to be a smart enough player to adjust and use your head carrying it in” (Rich Chere/The Star Ledger).
If Elias and Jagr can continue to click, I believe Elias’s production and quiet leadership will once again prevail for the Devils who still look to get on the winning side of things in this young season. Their next game is Friday night in Calgary at 9:00 PM (ET).