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Injuries Cannot Allow NJ to Sink

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Recently, the New Jersey Devils have been playing with a lot of new names as injuries have really hit this team hard. During the same stretch, NJ's record has not been good. Simply put, the Devils can't allow the injury bug to sink them.

He needs to return sooner than later.
He needs to return sooner than later.
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

So remember when I wrote that article saying that January would be a vital month for the New Jersey Devils?  Well the Devils handled that brutal 6 game stretch about as well as you could hope I guess, going 2-4.  They had a real nice victory against Dallas and squeaked one out against Minnesota; however, they lost fairly convincingly in the other four games, scoring a whopping 4 goals in those 4 games combined.  Then they lost to Colorado the other night, not adding to that goal total whatsoever.  That makes 4 goals in 5 losing efforts this month.  While those two wins this month keep the Devils alive in the standings, it seems like this team is really on the precipice of a slide downwards if they do not fix what is wrong ASAP.

The problem is that when you look at the roster nowadays, where can the fixes come from?  Injuries have really taken a toll on this club at perhaps the worst time possible.  I mean nothing against him as he may end up being a real good player, but in the Colorado game I saw Marc-Andre Gragnani man the Devils' power play.  The man is not even on the main website's roster, nor its prospect list (as of yesterday).  You have to go to Albany's main website to find him.  That speaks volumes about what sort of talent the Devils are currently icing.  And the team is not only icing them, but it's using them in key positions.  It almost reminds me of when the beloved fourth line of Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier were moved up to the third line after the cup run.  That did not go well, and neither has the month of January.

So why are John Hynes and Co. forced to use these skaters?  Injuries of course.  If you click on the link to the Devils roster, you see "**" dotted throughout the names, which indicates a player being on injured reserve.  As of this writing, players on IR included Mike Cammalleri, Patrik Elias, Jacob Josefson and Jiri Tlusty (Ryane Clowe not included).  Those are all forwards, and do not even include the recent injuries that have kept some of the defensemen out of the lineup.

For those of you who are currently saying something along the lines of "well every team has injuries during the season, you have to be able to deal with them," you're absolutely right.  The Devils do need to deal with it, and every team does have injuries.  The difference is that some teams have more injuries than others.  There is a website out there, Man Games Lost, that tracks just how injured your team is as compared to other teams in the league.  It does this for the four major American sports of football, hockey, baseball and basketball.

So just to see how badly NJ has been injured so far, let's check out the NHL section.  In the last update, from January 13th, it is noted that the Devils have been the 4th most injured team so far this season.  The team has lost 171 man games to injury so far, and the season is just over half way done.  There is still a lot of time.  The teams who have been worse off are Edmonton, Buffalo, and Detroit.  Only one of those teams, Detroit, has been playing well.  The other two have found themselves at the bottom of their divisions.  The Devils, much like Buffalo and Edmonton, have been playing poor hockey while injured.

Now again, that cannot be an excuse for anyone within the organization.  There needs to be a mindset within that locker room that the next man up will be able to do his job.  Sadly, that has not really happened, nor can it really happen.  Who is going to replace Cammalleri's near point per game pace or Elias' experience?  It can't happen.  And on a team that is bereft of scoring in general, losing goal scorers and distributors has been catastrophic.  Once again, the team has scored 4 goals in its 5 losing efforts this month.  That is anemic.

What would be the main cure?  Why, to get everyone healthy of course!  But that cannot happen overnight; injuries take time.  So while we as fans can debate other ways to get this team scoring and winning, what I want to do is look at the potential threshold between being competitive and being all but dead.  How do the Devils need to perform while playing at far less than 100% so that this team can still be in it come the home stretch?

This, of course, is not an exact science either, just as debating how to produce scoring is not.  If other teams within the division do not play well, then New Jersey will not need to be at its best either to remain competitive.  On the contrary, if the New York teams and teams like Pittsburgh, Carolina and Philadelphia really begin to hit their strides, the Devils will need to be near perfect just to remain in the race.  But what we can try to look for is a bare minimum.  What comes to mind for me is last season.  After October the Devils were very much in it.  Then the team went 4-8-2 in November and 4-8-3 in December.  By that point, no matter what else was going to happen, the team was out of it.  Barring an unimaginable winning streak later on, that two month stretch was the dagger that killed the team.  What do the Devils need to do over the rest of the month to avoid running into that dagger?

Currently, the team is 2-5 this month.  There are 5 games left to play.  Here is the remaining schedule before the all-star break:

Saturday, 1/16

Devils

Arizona

Tuesday, 1/19

Calgary

Devils

Thursday, 1/21

Ottawa

Devils

Saturday, 1/23

Devils

Winnipeg

Tuesday, 1/26

Devils

Pittsburgh

The good news is that unlike with the first half of the month, the records of the opposition are not nearly as good. That could mean the Devils have more of a chance.  But considering that they have already gone 2-5, just treading water through this stretch may not be enough.  Let's say that they go 2-3 over this stretch.  That would give the team a 4-8 record for January.  That's 8 points out of a potential 24.  While that is not quite as bad as the months I referred to last season, it is pretty darn close.  It would put the Devils in a hole as compared to the rest of the division that it would need to climb out of in February.  And who knows when this team will be fully healthy to really start scoring more?

In reality, the Devils may need to do more.  First off, they absolutely have to beat Pittsburgh on the 26th.  At the minimum they need a point out of it.  That is the lone four point game of the month, and Pitt is in lockstep with the Devils in the standings, plus has more games in hand.  If New Jersey falls behind them, and also falls behind Carolina or Philadelphia, they're done.  Then, after that, they may also need to go at least 2-1-1 in the other four games.  And that won't be easy, as Arizona has continued to surprise, and Ottawa is in a similar position standings-wise to New Jersey.  Only Winnipeg and Calgary have poor records.  Those 2 games need to be wins, and they need to pull at least one or two points out of the games against Arizona and Ottawa.

Conclusion

In the end, as I reread what I wrote, I realize that I do not sound very confident, and I hate to be the Debbie Downer on this website.  However, given the huge amount of injuries that this team has sustained, coupled with their inability to score this month, the future for the Devils this season does not look overly bright.  They honestly need to turn it around this month, and that turnaround needs to happen starting this afternoon.  If they can win some games and turn a bad January into a mediocre January, then they can still be very much alive as the team gets healthier.  If they cannot, however, and the injuries continue to breed losses, then this team may not be playing meaningful games down the stretch.  And given how this team has persevered already this season, that would be a very sad thing.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts?  Are you feeling glum about this team's chances like I am?  Do you feel that the injuries have really been affecting their on ice performance over the course of January? How do you think the Devils need to perform over the next 5 games to realistically still have a shot? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.