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Injuries, inexperience biggest reason for NJ's demise

by Dan Rosen
New Jersey's minus-22 goal differential is the worst in the National Hockey League, as are its 20 goals for, 42 goals against, 5 goals in the first period and 3-for-41 power play (7.3 percent).

So, yes, for right now we can accurately say the Devils' offense is the worst in the League and their defense isn't far behind. It's why they have an NHL-worst seven points through 13 games and are 1-5 over their last six games, with just seven goals in the span.

How can this happen to such a proud franchise?

We're not in the excuse-making business here, but it's fair to say that part of these problems can be blamed on injuries and the subsequent inexperience of Matt Taormina, Alexander Vasyunov, Olivier Magnan-Grenier, Tim Sestito, Bradley Mills and the now-injured Jacob Josefson and Matthew Corrente.

Those seven players have a combined 63 games of NHL experience, and that's only because Corrente played 12 games last season and Sestito played in nine over the previous two seasons. The Devils have had six players make their NHL debuts this season -- Taormina, Vasyunov, Magnan-Grenier, Mills, Josefson and Alexander Urbom, who currently is playing in the American Hockey League.

This is what happens when NHL veterans Anton Volchenkov (broken nose, stiff neck), Bryce Salvador (concussion), Brian Rolston (sports hernia surgery) and now, worst of all for New Jersey, Zach Parise (knee) go down with injuries.

Mark Fraser also is on the injured list with a fractured hand. Josefson is out 6-8 weeks after having surgery to repair a detached ligament in his right hand and Corrente is out with a non-displaced fracture of the left hand.

Of course, the offensive woes are not being helped by everyone that is healthy.

Ilya Kovalchuk has 1 goal, no assists and a minus-4 rating over his last seven games. Patrik Elias has 1 goal, 1 assist and is a minus-8 in his last 10 games. Travis Zajac hasn't scored a goal since opening night and has just 1 assist in his last 11 games. Jason Arnott has 1 assist and a minus-4 rating over his last six games, and his ice time has decreased significantly.

That's why the Devils are in such a bind as they head to Chicago to take on the Hawks on Wednesday.

Now let's go around the conference to see what's going on. The teams are listed in order of where they currently stand.

 Tampa Bay Lightning (7-2-1, 15 points)

The Lightning have won two straight and three of their last four. Steven Stamkos has 4 goals and 5 assists over the span and he leads the NHL with 19 points. Martin St. Louis has 3 goals and 3 assists in the last four games. Even more important is the play of goalie Dan Ellis, who brings a shutout streak of 113:33 into Wednesday's game in Anaheim. Ellis made 23 saves Sunday against Phoenix for Tampa's first shutout of the season and the 11th of his career.

 Montreal Canadiens (7-3-1, 15 points)

They have no player among the top 36 point producers in the League (Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn each have 10 points), but the Canadiens are fifth in the NHL in goals against (2.27 per game) thanks to the stellar play of Carey Price, who is 6-3-1 with a 2.38 GAA and .912 save percentage. Alex Auld chipped in with a 30-save effort in a 3-1 win against the Islanders last Friday. Andrei Markov also is back in the lineup, giving the Habs eight healthy defenseman.

 Philadelphia Flyers (7-4-1, 15 points)

Danny Briere will have to sit out the next two games thanks to his stick-swinging incident against Frans Nielsen late in last Saturday's game against the Islanders. Briere missed Monday's 3-2 win against Carolina, and he'll be out for Thursday's game against the Rangers and Saturday's rematch on Long Island. Briere on Monday said he was "shocked" by the three-game suspension handed down by the NHL. The Flyers, meanwhile, have won four in a row and five of six.

 Washington Capitals (7-4-0, 14 points)

The offense showed up in a big way last Saturday in Calgary in a 7-2 Caps victory. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green combined for 5 goals and 8 assists. "That's us at our best," Green said. Washington has won three of four since losing back-to-back games to Boston. The Bruins come to town Friday for the teams' third meeting in 17 days. Defenseman Tom Poti could return after missing four games with a lower-body injury in time for Wednesday's visit by the Maple Leafs.

 New York Rangers (6-4-1, 13 points)

The Rangers got a much-needed home victory -- only their second of the season -- Monday against Chicago. With Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal out of the lineup, the Rangers have to create their chances by doing simple things, like getting pucks deep, forcing turnovers and blocking shots. They've done that very well the last two games and they've gotten results. Ryan Callahan, the poster boy for the Rangers' work ethic, is on a seven-game point streak (4-7-11).

 Pittsburgh Penguins (6-5-1, 13 points)

Jordan Staal must be the unluckiest player in the NHL right now. Almost ready to make his season debut after offseason foot surgery, he now needs surgery on a fractured right hand and will be out an additional six weeks. So there's that, but what about the possible goalie controversy in Pittsburgh? Brent Johnson and Marc-Andre Fleury each have six starts -- Johnson is 5-0-1 with a 1.16 GAA while Fleury is 1-5-0 with a 3.35 GAA. Coach Dan Bylsma insists Fleury is the No. 1, but Johnson has been so good he's pushing for more playing time.

 Boston Bruins (6-2-0, 12 points)

The Bruins are rolling into a difficult month on the heels of back-to-back shutouts of Toronto and Ottawa. Tim Thomas has been as close to perfect as you can get (6-0, three goals allowed on 185 shots). After playing only eight games in October, the Bruins have 14 games this month, an even split of seven at home and seven on the road. However, three of their next four games will be in Buffalo, Washington and Pittsburgh.

 Atlanta Thrashers (5-4-2, 12 points)

The Thrashers have to be looking at this month's schedule and thinking now is the best time to gain some ground. They'll play 10 of their 14 games this month at home, including a stretch of six in a row from Nov. 17-28. It was great to see Ondrej Pavelec back in the nets Saturday in St. Louis, but no one is happier than Chris Mason, who finally can take a deep breath. Mason has not been particularly sharp lately, having allowed 18 goals over his last five games; he has a 3.50 GAA this season.

 Toronto Maple Leafs (5-4-1, 11 points)

The offense has run dry after a prolific start. The Leafs haven't scored in the last two games (shut out by the Rangers and Bruins, 2-0 each game) and have just seven goals in their last six games. However, Toronto hosts Ottawa on Tuesday, and the Senators are among the League's worst defensive teams right now. The Maple Leafs are at least doing a good job on the other end -- they've allowed only 2.33 goals per game over the last six, and that includes five last Saturday against Philadelphia.

 Carolina Hurricanes (5-6-0, 10 points)

Nine of their next 14 games will be at RBC Center, but the Hurricanes haven't scored a goal on home ice yet this season, getting blanked by Washington and Pittsburgh. This should be a telling month for the Hurricanes because it's finally back to normal after an October that included roughly 16,000 miles of travel. Rookie Jeff Skinner, 18, leads the team with 5 assists and 8 points. Fellow rookies Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman were assigned to AHL Charlotte on Sunday.

 New York Islanders (4-5-2, 10 points)

Kyle Okposo was in the MSG Network studios Saturday for "Hockey Night Live" with Bill Pidto, Ken Daneyko and Ron Duguay. This is not where the Isles want Okposo. They need him on the ice, but he won't be there for quite some time as he's still recovering from shoulder surgery. The Isles could use him now, as they've lost four in a row, allowing 18 goals in the process. They've scored only two goals in the last two games.

 Ottawa Senators (4-6-1, 9 points)

After completing a four-game homestand with two wins and two regulation losses, the Senators will play six of their next nine games away from Scotiabank Place. The road starts Tuesday in Toronto. Pascal Leclaire is with the team and Robin Lehner was re-assigned to AHL Binghamton on Monday. Leclaire is expected to dress Tuesday and serve as the backup to Brian Elliott. He hasn't played since pulling his groin Oct. 14. Filip Kuba also could return this week.

 Florida Panthers (4-5-0, 8 points)

The Panthers will be looking for another strong effort from Tomas Vokoun on Wednesday against Atlanta. He held Montreal to just one goal on 41 shots in a 3-1 win last Saturday. David Booth looked good again, scoring on a penalty shot for his fourth goal of the season. Stephen Weiss suffered a freak injury prior to Saturday's game when he rolled his ankle while kicking a soccer ball around before the morning practice. He hopes to play Wednesday.

 Buffalo Sabres (3-7-2, 8 points)

The Sabres have three division games this week, against Boston, Montreal and Toronto, and could pick up some ground in the standings if they start to pick up their game. They were shut out in Dallas on Saturday, 4-0, after losing back-to-back games in Philadelphia and Atlanta. Tyler Myers, last year's Calder Trophy winner, is a minus-10 with 4 points. Jason Pominville, who suffered a concussion Oct. 11 against Chicago, has been cleared to play and will be in the lineup Wednesday.

 New Jersey Devils (3-9-1, 7 points)

The Devils finish a five-game Western road swing Wednesday in Chicago and it has not been pretty. They're 1-4-0 so far on a six-game road trip that started at Madison Square Garden, but the big loss is Zach Parise. He returned home after Saturday's game in Los Angeles and needs exploratory surgery on his knee to figure out what is ailing him. They start a three-game homestand Friday against the Rangers.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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