The New Jersey Devils may finally be seeing the reality of life without Zach Parise.
New Jersey’s 8-1-3 start made them forget all about its former captain and star left wing. It jumped out to eight wins and the top spot in the Eastern Conference in the first quarter of the season with scoring throughout the lineup. The combination of David Clarkson and Patrik Elias helped pick up the slack left by Parise. Depth players like Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier chipped in on the offensive end. Even Bobby Butler, who wore Parise’s old number 9, looked like a bargain deal.
That start masked the huge hole on the Devils top line. Devils coach Pete DeBoer had a rotating cast of players audition for a spot on the top line. Dainius Zubrus, Stefan Matteau and Butler all had their shot with Ilya Kovalchuk. The hole was never filled, and as the season progressed, the lack of production from the top line became more glaring.
With their good start gone and the Devils in the thick of a battle to get back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference, the lack of offense has helped dropped New Jersey into its current situation. The Devils have scored two or fewer goals in 10 of its last 13 games. As the offense went dry, the wins disappeared. New Jersey is just 3-8-2 in its last 13 games, winning once in regulation.
They have scored 74 goals this season, the second lowest in the Eastern Conference. Only the New York Rangers 67 goals scored rank lower. The Devils are 21st in the league in goals for, and have a minus-10 goal differential. That low goal total is doing New Jersey no favors. The Winnipeg Jets are the only team in the top eight of the conference with a negative goal differential, and they’ve scored 80 goals.
When Parise signed with the Wild, New Jersey lost 31 goals and 38 assists. The option to not re-sign Petr Sykora cost the Devils another 21 goals. Those two players alone took away 52 goals, a tall order for the current roster to cover. DeBoer doesn’t believe it’s too much for this roster to handle.
“We’ve got enough here to win more games than we’ve been winning lately and we’ve got to get the job done,” he said after last night’s loss.
The offensive struggles place Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello in a tough situation with the trade deadline two weeks ago. Several teams in both conferences are still in playoff contention. Finding a top-six forward may be difficult. The market has also shrunk in recent days, with both Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf resigning with the Anaheim Ducks.
Complicating the problem is injuries to the Devils forward units. Zubrus is still weeks away from playing after wrist surgery. Alexei Ponikarovksy was injured in last night’s loss, and did not practice today.
“That’s for Lou to decide,” DeBoer said when asked if the team needed to add players. “I coach the players we have here.”
Those players have failed to pick up the slack Parise and Sykora left behind. As each point grows more important, and the season quickly winds down, the Devils will need to figure out how to score before its too late.