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Devils defense not flashy, but it's getting job done

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer would be the first to tell you that defensemen aren't paid to score goals. They are paid to defend.

And that's a good thing, because entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs not one New Jersey blueliner cracked the top 78 players at the position in scoring. The highest, in fact, was Marek Zidlicky, who was acquired from the Minnesota Wild in a February trade. His 22 points in 63 games ranked 79th in the League.

New Jersey might not have the flashiest of skaters on defense, but boy do the Devils get the job done in front of goalie Martin Brodeur. It's not too far-fetched to claim the synergy they exert along the blue line would rival that of any other team left in the playoffs.


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"They defend by committee," DeBoer said. "I think as a team, we defend by committee. We talk about moving up and down the ice as a five-man group, defending and attacking as a five-man group. I think that when you do that, you don't have to have a [Zdeno] Chara or someone like that in the lineup. I think our personnel dictates that, and the guys have bought into that."

The Devils have allowed 27.4 shots per game in the playoffs, the lowest of all the remaining playoff teams. The club has yielded 2.46 goals-per game.

The men in the trenches are Bryce Salvador and Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov and Adam Larsson, and Andy Greene and Mark Fayne. Those aren't household names, but playing defense isn't a popularity contest, either.

"We make a lot of the small plays that maybe were unnoticed during the year, but come playoff time, they've made a difference," Greene said. "We don't care who's getting the recognition. As long as we're winning playoff games, that's fine with us."

There were also major contributions made by Peter Harrold earlier in the playoffs before Larsson was inserted back into the lineup for Game 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers on May 1.

DeBoer was asked who he considers to be the leader of the defensive corps.

"I don't think there's any doubt Zidlicky stepped in and filled a big hole for us," DeBoer said. "He, Salvador and Greene are veteran guys who have found another level in the playoffs, as character-type players often do."

The Flyers have been completely frustrated by the defensive clinic the Devils have exhibited in the last three games of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal. The Devils have handled the skillful Philadelphia forwards with relative ease in grabbing a 3-1 series lead.

"I think we really trust our system," Larsson told "We go through what we have to do, and they do the same, but it looks like what we have done has worked a little bit better."

"I think we really trust our system. We go through what we have to do, and they do the same, but it looks like what we have done has worked a little bit better."
-- Devils' defenseman Adam Larsson

New Jersey has limited the Flyers to single-digit shot totals for nine of the last 10 periods, outscoring their Atlantic Division foes 12-6 in the process. While it takes an entire team effort to put together that type of streak against a team that averaged five goals in an opening-round triumph against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils certainly seem to have Philadelphia's number at this stage.

"Everyone has been playing very well," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "We've been playing well in their end and keeping stuff simple and have been fairly physical on them. We're getting it done somehow and playing solid. We don't give up many odd-man rushes, and that makes it a lot easier for the defensemen to play."

Salvador leads the group with 27 hits, Greene has blocked 18 shots and Zidlicky leads the team in average ice time (25:31). All seven defensemen with playoff experience have not only notched at least one point, but own a positive plus-minus rating.

"Getting offense from our defense is something we've worked at all year as a group," DeBoer said. "We want our defensemen involved want to use our points in the offensive zone. It hasn't come naturally … it's something we've had to work at."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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