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Blue Line Offense?

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Coming into this season, no one expected the defensive corps of the New Jersey Devils to be an offensive powerhouse. However, with a horrible set of injuries gripping this team for the time being, there needs to be offense coming from somewhere. Why not from them?

Whip out The Truth more, please.
Whip out The Truth more, please.
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

As Mike wrote the other day, the New Jersey Devils have recently and rather suddenly been hit with a rash of injuries that could not have been worse.  As has been noted on this site, the overwhelming majority of the offense on this club has come from the top 5 forwards on the team, with very little coming from the bottom 6.  With two of those top 5 guys going down to injury recently, it really creates issues for this team's offensive capabilities.  Both Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac did not play last night, and Zajac has been placed on IR for the time being.  That is not a good sign.

If the Devils are going to continue to produce points and remain in the heat of the wild card chase, however, then they will need offense from elsewhere as those two guys heal up and become 100% once again.  The first and most obvious place to look for those points would be with the bottom 6 forwards.  Some of those skaters may be out there as part of a so-called energy line, but in reality the need to pick up their games and collectively help to fill the gap left by Henrique and Zajac.  If everyone from the bottom 6 chipped in a little more on the scoresheet, it would go a long way to nullifying the losses seen so far.

The other area to look for points would be the defensive corps.  John did mention on Monday that the defensemen on this team are not getting as many shots to net as they should be, and in fact are well below league average in terms of shots on net.  That is something that might need to change if NJ is to continue to score at a similar rate.  While it would be convenient if the other forwards on the team could replace the losses of Henrique and Zajac, in reality that is most likely not feasible.  There will need to be some help from the blue line as well, and while I do not suggest that they all become Marek Zidlicky-types that pinch too often and leave odd man rushes against Cory Schneider, perhaps a little more of a focus on getting the puck to the net from the blue line would be beneficial.

Before last night's game against Detroit, here were the scoring numbers for the 7 defensemen who have suited up for the big club this season.  Statistics here come from the Devils main website.

Player

Games Played

Shots

Goals

Assists

Points

Damon Severson

27

38

0

9

9

John Moore

27

41

2

7

9

Adam Larsson

28

19

1

5

6

David Schlemko

22

24

2

3

5

Andy Greene

28

27

2

2

4

Eric Gelinas

17

22

1

2

3

Jon Merrill

23

10

0

0

0

There you have it folks.  After 28 games played, the points leaders on the Devils have 9 points total, and no one has more than 2 goals.  Those are subpar numbers to say the least.  For comparative purposes, let's add them together.  As a unit, the Devils defense has 8 goals and 28 assists for 36 total points in 28 games.  Patrick Kane alone has 8 more points than the entire Devils defense.  But taking freaks of nature out of the question, here are the scoring stats for the other blue lines in the Metropolitan.  Stats here from NHL.com and apart from the Devils, the list is sorted by division standing (before play started yesterday).

Team

Games Played

Goals

Assists

Points

Washington

27

13

46

59

NY Rangers

29

12

45

57

NY Islanders

29

8

35

43

Pittsburgh

27

7

35

42

Philadelphia

29

11

29

40

Carolina

28

18

35

53

Columbus

30

6

38

44

Devils

28

8

28

36

Clearly, the Devils have the lowest scoring blue line in the division.  No other team has less than 40 points total from their defense, and the best teams in the division, the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, have an exceptional number of points from their defensemen.  The other team to have great offensive numbers from their defense, Carolina, has that because Justin Faulk is an absolute beast.  He alone has 11 goals and 10 assists.

Now, the one other question we need to ask before we jump to conclusions is how many shots the Devils' defense is taking as compared to the other teams, and/or is their shooting percentage considerably worse.  For this chart, I am only looking at defensemen who have played at least 9 games for their respective clubs (as 9x3=27, which is the low numbers of games played on the list.  So 9 games is around a third of each team's games).

Team

# of Defensemen

Shots

Shooting %

Washington

7

212

5.84%

NY Rangers

7

221

5.56%

NY Islanders

7

242

4.70%

Pittsburgh

6

198

4.38%

Philadelphia

8

259

4.94%

Carolina

8

291

4.74%

Columbus

8

213

2.44%

Devils

7

181

4.34%

So the numbers do add up.  The Devils' defense takes the least amount of shots in the division, and because of it has the least amount of points.  They can partially blame their shooting percentage, which is second worst as a unit in the division. However, Carolina as a group has a shooting percentage only 0.4% higher, and they have 17 more points.  So there is only so much blame they can place on poor puck luck when shooting from the point.  Simply, they need to shoot more.

When I think of shooting more, the first person that comes to mind in a big way is Eric Gelinas.  His booming shot is his biggest asset hands down, and he needs to use it more to get more playing time.  In 17 games played, he has only 22 shots, for a very low 1.29 shots per game.  Severson has almost 1.41 shots per game, and John Moore is over one and a half shots per game.  Severson has a decent shot, but nothing quite like what Gelinas has.  2 shots a game is not an unreasonable expectation for someone like Gelinas, who also does get some time manning the power point whenever he plays.

Also, how about Larsson?  When he was drafted, that first season he was given a good amount of time on the power play—almost 107 minutes over 65 games.  This season, that has deteriorated to 06:52 over 28 games.  He has lost his offensive game.  Now, I understand that it has come with the exceptional benefit that he is now a great defender, but if this team is going to score more, perhaps he could start to think a little more about the offensive side of things now that he has the defensive side figured out.

Conclusion

In the end, figuring out who needs to shoot more is just speculation.  The reality of the numbers, however, states that the Devils blue line does not participate in the offensive part of the game much at all.  They shoot less than any team in the Metropolitan, and score fewer points as a result.  With Zajac and Henrique out for now, and with injuries sure to happen throughout the rest of the season, New Jersey could seriously use their defensive corps to start chipping in with some more offensive production.  They do a real quality job at shot prevention, but if they could only couple that with shot generation, they would jump into one of the more formidable defensive groups in the NHL.  Without that, however, there is a chance that the Devils could see a rather noticeable dip in scoring production without 2 of their top 5 forwards in the lineup.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on the matter? Should the defensemen on the Devils start to think about shooting more now that Henrique and Zajac are not playing? Who specifically should take up the call and blast more shots?  Or, do you think that they should just continue to focus only on the defensive side of things?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.