During the break, when the world focuses on Olympic hockey, we here at RWTD decided to start a series called "Devils At The Break." Darren and I will use this series to take a look at the Devils first part of the season, analyzing everything from injuries to individual player performances. We begin the series with the injuries the Devils sustained in the first part of the season. While some players missed a game or two with injury, we're going to look at four Devils who missed significant time this season: Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus, and Paul Martin.
The Devils all-time leading scorer has missed a combined 22 games this season. He missed the first 13 games of the season with a groin injury, and then missed nine games after a hit from Colorado's Ryan Wilson. The hit was clean, but the outcome looked scary. Elias laid, motionless, on the ice and was eventually carried out on a stretcher. While Elias returned from both injuries without visual side effects, it never helps to have one of the team leaders sidelined for almost a quarter of the season. Elias tallied 11 goals and 19 assists before the Olympic break, but I think we all saw what the offense and powerplay looked like without him. Without Elias, the Devils lack creativity in the offensive zone. His health will be a concern going forward, because without him the Devils lack a playmaker to play with Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Devils young right-winger showed promise early in the season. He got to the dirty areas, scored ugly goals and gave the Devils a gritty presence. All it took was a shot by Boston's Zdeno Chara to halt what looked to be a promising start to the season. While in his defensive zone, Clarkson stepped in front a shot by Chara from the point. He immediately crumpled to the ice and crawled back to bench. The shot fractured Clarkson's ankle, leaving him sidelined for four-to-six weeks. Clarkson attempted to return December 31, 2009, but aggravated the injury in the Devil's win. He hasn't seen the ice since, but the team expects him to be ready for their March 2nd game against the San Jose Sharks. As I said before, Clarkson brought grit to the Devils. While his offensive skills may not be what's missed most, the Devils certainly miss his physical presence. They haven't found someone willing to go into the dirty areas to score or throw down the gloves when guys are taking too many liberties with Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Elias. It will be a welcome sight to see Clarkson doing the little things to give the Devils an edge.
Zubrus went down with injury November 30th, marking the third Devils forward to miss significant time. Zubrus blocked a shot from Nashville's Ken Klein, taking the brunt of the shot to the knee. His kneecap broke from the impact, and Zubrus was shelved for thirty days. While he has mostly underperformed as a Devil, the team lacked depth at center, and losing one didn't help that situation. Zubrus can also do a multitude of things - kill penalties, play physical, score goals - and the Devils missed those abilities with his injury. He's been moved around since coming back, but he's recently clicked with Zajac and Parise on the wing.
Paul Martin's injury, above all the rest, has had the most impact on the Devils this season. The defenseman, who seemed to be improving every year, went down with an injury October 24th at Pittsburgh. Martin sustained the injury after taking a shot off the forearm from ex-Devil Bill Guerin.
Before the injury, Martin began to settle into his role as the leader of the defense. Last season, he played more minutes than any other defenseman (24:22) and led defenseman in points (33). He also seemed to click with Johnny Oduya, and both of them formed a strong offensive pairing. Martin's original injury diagnosis was only four-to-six weeks, but after the bone didn't heal properly, he had to have screws inserted to help the healing process.
After playing extremely well in his absence, the Devils defense came back down to Earth in the last month. One quick look at the average time on ice will show you a good indicator why:
Minutes 2008-2009: 16:17
Minutes 2009-2010: 24:29
Minutes 2008 - 2009: 19:01
Minutes 2009 - 2010: 20:04
Minutes 2008 - 2009: 17:47
Minutes 2009 - 2010: 22:32
The only Devil who hasn't seen an increase in his numbers is Bryce Salvador. But giving defensmen such as Greene and Mottau extra minutes will wear them down. Greene hasn't been the offensive force he was earlier in the season, and Mottau continues to make mistakes and play terrible defense in his own zone. The Devils glaring holes at the blueline were highlighted when Martin went down. The team will be glad to see Martin back in the lineup in San Jose March 2nd.
These are the more significant injuries for the Devils this season. Elias and Zubrus both have some back to form, and adding in Clarkson and Martin will compare to adding two above-average players in a trade. Clarkson will bring back the grit and toughness this team sorely lacks, and Martin will bring an offensive presence to the blueline. Martin also allows head coach Jacques Lemaire to take some minutes away from Mottau and other defenseman. When March 2nd rolls around, it'll be the first time in a long time the Devils can say they are playing with their "regulars."